J. T. Mawson.
1. A Priceless Gem in a golden setting
2. Behold . . . the Friend of Sinners: and the sinner at His feet
3. And in the Garden — a Tomb
4. The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: His poverty and our wealth
5. The Credentials of our Lord: The Shepherd and His Sheep
6. Faith, Faithfulness and Fellowship
7. A Biography in Prophecy: From the manger to the universal Throne
8. The Seven Words on the Cross: His Last Will and Testament
9. The Lord's Farewell Words: Our dangers; His provision
10. Jesus Showing Himself: and on this wise showed He Himself
11. Standing by the Cross: The way of "the disciple whom Jesus loved"
12. Blinding, Beguiling, Buffeting: The Activities of the Devil
Christ and Him crucified is not more popular to-day than when Paul preached his gospel in proud and pleasure-loving Corinth; but it is just as needful now as it was then if men are to be saved and made to live unto God. Then it was to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, and to-day it is despised by those who prefer the gospel of evolution and human progress; but as then, so now, it is the power and the wisdom of God to all them that believe. I am one of them that believe. Christ, once crucified but now risen and glorified is my Saviour, and to Him I bear witness in these reported Addresses.
A Priceless Gem in a Golden Setting
The fact that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners gives the impulse to all true service, and it must be the basis of all sound and effectual preaching. Paul did not want Timothy to forget it; he could not forget it himself; no preacher should forget it. The man who does not rejoice in it and preach it, has very little to say that is worth listening to, even though he rival Socrates in learning, and be as eloquent as Chrysostom, the golden mouthed.
"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." — 1 Tim. 1:15.
There could not be simpler statement of the gospel of our God than that, but it is as great as it is simple. There is in it a priceless gem and that gem lies in a golden setting. Let us first consider the gem. It is this saying: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." It is a familiar saying, yet I proclaim it afresh, and as though you had never before heard the good news that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
I am speaking to many who are Christians; your hearts ought to thrill to this word. I am sure they do. It was written by a great servant of the Lord to his son in the gospel, and these two found a wonderful communion in it, for the exceeding abundant grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to sinners and the love of God to the world had been displayed in the fact that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. As Paul wrote these words he must have been profoundly moved, for the coming of Christ into the world had meant so much to him. It had saved him, blessed him, changed him, given him something to live for, and filled him with a life-long gratitude to his Lord.
It is not surprising that this saying should find a place in this letter of instruction to a young servant of Christ, for the fact that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners gives the impulse to all true service, and it must be the basis of all sound and effectual preaching. Paul did not want Timothy to forget it; he could not forget it himself — no preacher should forget it. The man who does not rejoice in it and preach it, has very little to say that is worth listening to, even though he rival Socrates in learning, and is as eloquent as Chrysostom, the golden-mouthed.
This saying is a most fitting one for this company, for there are sinners here, the very sinners whom Christ Jesus came into the world to save. Indeed the text would suit every sort of congregation that we could gather together; whether poor or rich, illiterate or learned, high or low, for all have sinned, and Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. How universal is its appeal! It is God's message to all. We may carry it from pole to pole, through every clime and to men of every colour and creed, and everywhere it ought to command the deepest interest, for there is no man that sinneth not, and every sinner needs a Saviour.
I propose to divide the saying into three parts: (1) The One who came — CHRIST JESUS. (2) The place into which He came — THE WORLD. (3) The object of His coming — TO SAVE SINNERS. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
THE ONE WHO CAME
We must begin with the One who came, for apart from Him there is no gospel for men, no Saviour for sinners. It was Christ Jesus who came. But who is He? The Bible leaves us in no doubt as to this. When John was moved by the Holy Ghost to write of Him, he scorned and discarded all introductions and preambles and made haste to get at once to his great subject, as he declared, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made . . . and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." He is God, the Creator, eternal in being, almighty in power, infinite in wisdom, and He it was who came into the world to save sinners. Of old, when the corrupt and guilty cities of the plain were to be judged and destroyed, two angels were sent to do it; and when rebellious men were to be rebuked for their iniquities, the Word was sent by holy prophets. But now the time had come, not for judgment, nor for rebuke, but for salvation; and neither angels nor prophets were equal to this great work. For this the Word must become flesh, the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father must become man. The day of salvation could not dawn until He appeared, but when Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners the light of that glorious day began to shine for all.
How wonderful it is! He was Jehovah who gave the law at Sinai, and since that law had been flouted and broken He might have come with flaming fire taking vengeance, but He did not.
"He did not come to judge the world,
He did not come to blame,
He did not only come to seek,
It was to save He came:
And when we call Him Saviour,
We call Him by His Name."
To save sinners He had to come down to them. Since they were men, He had to become man, though He was the sinless Man, as all Scripture shows. He was as holy as man on earth as He was in His eternal Godhead, just as sinless when He walked the filthy streets of those eastern cities as He was when He sat upon His throne and created the angels. He is God, infinitely holy He is man, spotless and pure. A holy mystery is this! A mystery beyond the range of the human mind, but not beyond the reach of faith. It may be darkness to the intellect of proud, self-sufficient men, but it is sunshine to the hearts of all those that believe. We may rejoice and exult in the angel's message to the shepherds at Bethlehem when he said, "To you is born a Saviour," and with them we may bow in wonder and worship beside the manger, in which was cradled Christ, the Lord.
THE PLACE INTO WHICH HE CAME
Christ Jesus came into the world. It was the only way, but the world did not welcome Him when He came. There was no room for Him in the habitations of men: a stable was His shelter and a manger His bed at His birth. Nor did His great compassion for men and His gentle words and tender mercies change the world's thoughts about Him, the more it saw of Him, the more it hated Him. It could not endure Him. It cried, "Away with Him," and spat in His face and crucified Him. Such was the world into which He came.
He knew well all that it would cost Him to come. He knew how men would treat Him when He did come. He was not taken by surprise when they despised and rejected Him, for He knew all men. The depth of their sinfulness, the hardness of their hearts, the blindness of their eyes were all known to Him. He knew that sin and Satan held them in an awful thrall, that they would prefer their corruption and sins to the choicest of heaven's blessing. He knew that coming into the world would mean for Him a life of sorrow and a death of shame, and knowing all, He came. He came from the unsullied glory of God into this world that reeked with moral putrefaction. He came to be the light in the world's darkness. He came to declare the heart of God to men who did not know Him. He came into the world to save sinners.
If there had been any goodness in the heart of the world it would surely have been discovered and developed by the life of Jesus here. Never were such words spoken as He spoke, never were such works done. He stretched out His hands to the weary and laden, and invited them to come to Him for rest. He offered satisfaction and eternal life and proclaimed in the ears of men that "God is love." In Him God was beseeching men to be reconciled to Him. It was all in vain, their ears were heavy and they would not hear. His heart was moved with compassion for their miseries, and He fed them when they were hungry, He healed them when they were sick, He blessed their children, He went about doing good; but the world was only moved to deeper hatred.
The world that treated Christ like that has not changed one bit, and the only hope is for us to be saved out of it. Every unsaved soul in the world belongs to the world that crucified the Lord of glory, sharing its sins now and soon to share its doom. You may say, "Do you not belong to the world?" No, thank God, I do not. I did once, but the great Saviour of sinners has redeemed me from it by His own blood and I belong to Him now, and He has said of all who believe on Him through the gospel, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." The man who believes the gospel belongs to Christ and to heaven; the one who rejects it or neglects its entreaties, belongs to the world that spat in the face of Jesus and nailed Him to a cross. On one side or the other each one of us stands.
Such was the world into which He came, such were the men to whom He appealed. Nothing could be clearer than the solemn truth that in men no good thing dwells; that it is not a reformer or a teacher or a guide that they need, but a Saviour who is able and willing to save.
THE OBJECT OF HIS COMING
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. If they could have saved themselves He would not have come to do it. If men could have saved themselves, God would have let them do it, and when they had accomplished the great work He would have put the crown upon their brows and said, "Well done" But no sinner can save himself, much less can he ransom his brother from sin's slavery.
A Saviour was needed and there is only one Saviour. "Neither is salvation in any other, for there is none other name given among men whereby we must be saved." It is strange that sinful men do not feel their need of Jesus; it is strange that some refuse to own it. I talked to one of them, a doctor in Melbourne, Australia. He told me that he loved the Lord his God with all his heart, and his neighbour as himself. I expressed my astonishment, and told him that he was the only man I had ever met who could make such a claim. "You have no gospel, doctor, and since you are not a sinner, you do not need one," I said. "Oh yes," he said, "I have; my gospel is, Be true to the good within you, and all will come right in the end." I replied, "Sometimes I go into the slums and talk to those who are down and out, to the drunkards and degraded. I have a gospel that I carry to them; it is, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Would you advise me to throw over my gospel and carry yours to that sort of folk? He coloured a little as he answered, "No, I think your gospel will suit such people better than mine." "Doctor," I said, "listen to this. God says, 'There is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.' The drunkard in the slums and the doctor in his surgery, are alike sinful in the sight of God. They both need a Saviour, and Christ Jesus came into the world to save both. Is not this good news? Surely no word that could fall on mortal ear could give greater joy than this; 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!' I read the words and I can say, 'Why, Lord, that means me; I am a sinner, and if Thou didst come to save sinners, then Thou didst come to save me.'"
But think of what it cost Him! To show to the full His love to guilty men, He had to die. His words and works and His holy life were wonderful, but they could not take the sting out of death for us, they could not deliver us from Satan's power, or save us from the just judgment that our sins deserved. To do this, He had to die for us, for without the shedding of blood, there is no remission. Hear what the Scriptures say, "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." And again, "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed." And again, "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly."
There is a challenge to every one in this saying. What response have you made to the Saviour's approach to you. Consider what He has done. Think of the great love that filled His heart for us when He died for such as we are. I would that we were all like a young Scotchman with whom I talked.
He was an anxious man, a conscience-stricken sinner. I turned him to the verse of Scripture which I have already quoted, Isaiah 53, and explained to him that it spoke of what Jesus suffered on the cross for sinners, and asked him to put himself into it by changing the plural pronouns into singular ones. He understood me, and read, "He was wounded for MY transgressions, He was bruised for MY iniquities the chastisement of MY peace was upon Him, and with His stripes I —" — then he burst into a big sob and could not finish the verse. I put my arm round him and asked, "What is the matter?" He answered, "I can't understand it, I can't understand why He should have loved me so much as to die for me." My reply was, "Neither can I understand it. And God knew that neither you nor I could understand it, and so He calls it in His Word, the love of Christ that passeth knowledge.'"
I preach this great Saviour. God's gospel to men is Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures and was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. He is willing and able to save all who yield themselves to Him and all whom He saves, He keeps. He gives to them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them from His hand. But this preaching Christ is not easy work, and yet it is it is alike my joy and my despair; my joy, for I speak with gladness of Him who has saved me and can save you, and whom I know to be brighter and better than the brightest and best the world can give; and yet in despair, for I feel that my words are dull and cold words when they ought to throb and burn, and move you, and bend you, and bring you in full surrender to the feet of Him of whom I speak.
THE GOLDEN SETTING
This saying is the gem, now for its setting. A man said to me after a gospel meeting, "If only what you have been telling us were true!" I answered, "It would be very good, wouldn't it?" He admitted that it would. "Let me assure you," I said, "that it is as true as it is good," and my text declares it to be so. IT IS A FAITHFUL SAYING. It will not deceive or disappoint you. It is true, it is faithful. You have heard and believed thousands of false sayings from the lips of men in your time; your credulity in that respect is amazing; but here is a saying from the lips of God, and it is not false but true, and it is as good as it is true. You may safely believe this saying, you may receive it into your very heart, for it is a faithful saying. That is the first part of the golden setting.
Another may ask, "But is it for me? How may I be sure that it is for me?" The text answers the question, for it tells us that the saying is WORTHY OF ALL ACCEPTATION. It is worthy that every man, woman and child should receive it. It reaches out to the greatest of men and they need it, and it comes down to the meanest of men — they too may believe it. It matters not whether you live in a mansion, or sleep on the Thames Embankment it is for you. All excludes none. This saying, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," is worthy of your acceptation, it is for you. That is another part of the golden setting.
A young actor had come to hear the gospel, and at the close of the meeting he said to me, "If you knew what God knows about me, you would not say that I could be saved." He felt his badness, and it may be that you are like him, feeling that you are too bad to be saved. It is quite possible that you could not be worse than you are, but, even so, look again at our saying, examine further the setting in which it appears, and you will discover what that young actor discovered, that no sinner is beyond the saving grace and power of this great Saviour. The one who was inspired of the Holy Ghost to write it exclaimed as he did so, OF WHOM I AM CHIEF. It was as though he said, None need despair. Christ Jesus has saved me, and if He has saved me, He can save you. The chief of sinners is with Christ in glory. He is there because Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And for the same reason you may dwell for ever in the same glory. And that word completes the golden setting in which the gem sheds its beauty.
It seems to me that my text meets every difficulty and answers every question that can be raised. It encourages even the worst of sinners to put the great Saviour to the test. It surely has an appeal to you. If you will believe the saying and yield to the Saviour now, you will begin to learn His grace, His tenderness, His power. He who died to save you, ever liveth to make intercession for those who trust Him, and He is able to keep them from falling, and to present them faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.
"Behold . . . the Friend of Sinners": and the sinner at His feet
Let Simon sit, smug and critical, tearless and cold, in his Pharisaical pride despising alike the Forgiver and the forgiven, with him we have nothing in common, for we have sinned much and been forgiven much; we are loved much and must love much in return. We fall with the sinner at the Saviour's feet, those feet which were beautiful upon the mountains, bringing good tidings and publishing peace, feet that were pierced and wounded at Calvary for us. There we pour out our gratitude and adoration "for to whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much."
"The Son of Man is come eating and drinking, and ye say, Behold, a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children.
"And one of the Pharisees desired Him to eat with him. . . . And behold, a woman in the city which was a sinner . . . stood at His feet behind Him weeping." — Luke 7.
With what scorn the enemies of the grace of God spoke of our Lord. They despised Him because He did not respect their self-righteousness and pride, but sought out the sinful and the poor. Luke, whose high privilege it was to write especially of the grace of God, shows us this more often than the other evangelists. In chapter 5 he tells us that the Pharisees murmured against His disciples, saying, "Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? Here in chapter 7 they scornfully call Him "The Friend of publicans and sinners." In chapter 15 the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, "This Man receiveth sinners and eateth with them:" and in chapter 19, "They all murmured, saying, that He was gone to be a guest with a man that is a sinner."
The self-righteous religionist always did and always will murmur against the grace of God, but what folly is this, for where should the great Saviour be but among sinners? It was for this He came — to call sinners to repentance. We are glad that His foes called Him "the Friend of sinners"; they gave Him a name that shines out with an imperishable and everlasting lustre, and countless multitudes will rejoice in the glory of God for ever because He befriended every individual soul of them, when apart from Him they were hopeless and lost.
They had scarcely flung their bitter taunt at Him than He took it up and showed how true it was, and showed too, that from among these sinners whom they despised, wisdom would gather her children and fill heaven with them. He showed that there were two families in the world — the family of wisdom and the family of folly. He Himself made the division between them and discovered which was which. The children of wisdom came to Him and clung to Him as the needle clings to the magnet, while the children of folly held proudly aloof; as it was, so it is, and by this very thing every one may test himself as to whose child he is.
The scene where Jesus showed Himself to be the Friend of sinners was the Pharisee's house. A strange and uncongenial place in which to do that we might think, but the background of Pharisaical pride and criticism only served to throw into bright and blessed relief the Saviour's grace. So we read, "One of the Pharisees desired Him that He would eat with him, and He went into the Pharisee's house and sat down to meat." This man may have thought himself a very important person when he extended his patronage to this prophet from Nazareth, and we can easily imagine how proudly he looked upon the multitude when his invitation was accepted. He little knew that his humble Guest was really arranging the feast that day, that He might spread another feast at which thousands have fed since then; a feast of grace for hungry men and women, which is as full and fresh as ever, and which should rejoice and satisfy every one of us.
The Pharisees supposed that Jesus was a prophet, but then a prophet was not, of course, in the same class as a Pharisee, and while he had invited Him to his house, he looked upon Him as so inferior to himself that he did not offer Him the ordinary courtesy of the day. How could a Pharisee treat a prophet as an equal! And what prophet would expect it?
So on entering the house the Lord took the lowest seat at the feast, just inside the door. He could not have done otherwise, for He did not teach others to do what He did not practise Himself, and He had taught, "When thou art bidden to a feast, take the lowest room"; and no friendly voice addressed Him saying, "Friend, go up higher." He was left where He reclined — just inside the door. And just outside the door there stood a woman, bowed and broken by her sin. She had heard Him, and His word had made her feel that He alone could ease her of her burden and heal her stricken soul, and now between her and Him there was but a step. She was just outside and He was just inside that door, with only a step between. If He had been seated at the head of the table at the Pharisee's right hand, her courage would have failed her at the threshold and she probably would not have reached Him that day, but He was so near her. Why, she had but to stretch out her hand and touch Him, she had but to take one step to be at His feet. Thus did the disdain of the Pharisee put the Saviour within reach of the sinner.
There were two great powers that day conspiring together to bring her into the place of blessing; her great need was driving her, and His great love was drawing her, and between the driving power of her need and the drawing power of His love she was forced to the feet of Jesus, the most blessed place in the universe of God. How do I know that the feet of Jesus is the most blessed place in the universe of God for burdened sinners? I know it from experience. It was there my burden rolled away. Happy day!
"I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad."
And He was so kind to me. He made me feel that He was glad to see me. He released me from my sins and attached me to Himself, and I can bear witness to the fact that to be at the feet of Jesus is to be in the most blessed place in the universe of God.
I tell out the gospel truth when I say that between you and the great Saviour there is but a step. In a gospel meeting some time ago I pressed the people on this point. There was a lad in that audience who lived alone with his widowed mother, and that night he could not sleep. He needed the Saviour, he wanted to be saved, and he took the step. It was near to midnight when he crept into his mother's room. "My boy," said she, "what's the matter?" "Mother," he said, "do you remember that the preacher kept saying, 'It's only a step to Jesus, why not take it now'? I've come to tell you that I've taken the step." This is the time. Now is the day of salvation. It is only a step to Jesus, and there's room at His feet for you.
Behold the weeping sinner at the Saviour's feet. What kind of tears were those that flowed down her cheeks? They were tears of repentance we may be sure, but they were tears of gratitude also. She had found the place of rest. He had said, "Come unto Me and I will give you rest." She had heard His word and had come, and had He disappointed her? Nay. He had exceeded her highest hope, as He always does, and though He had not spoken one word to her, her heart had found its rest, where weary souls may always rest, at His feet.
The Pharisee watched her as she washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and anointed them with ointment and kissed them in her gratitude, and as he watched, he disapproved, and the Lord went down and down in his estimation. A prophet he had thought Him when he invited Him to his house; but now he is sure He cannot be that, for no prophet would have allowed such a woman as this to touch him. Perhaps not, but He whom this woman adored was more than a prophet — He was her Saviour and her God. This is the wonder of the gospel, it transcends our highest thought. When sinners did not seek their God, He sought them and came to earth to save them. The Son in the Godhead, by whose power the worlds were made, became flesh and dwelt among us, not to condemn but to save, and if we would see Him in this mighty condescension of love, where must we look for Him? There in the lowest seat in the Pharisee's house with a sinful woman weeping out her penitence at His feet, and a proud, graceless, self-righteous Pharisee despising Him for it. Oh, let us bend at those same feet, let us bring our adoration there, for our God is our Saviour; our Saviour is our God. Yes, Jesus is our Saviour, and He is our Lord and our God.
But if Jesus went down in the thoughts of the Pharisee, He went up in the thoughts of the sinner. The longer she stayed at His feet, the more wonderful He became to her, and the less she cared for the Pharisee's scorn. She knew herself to be worse than even he imagined her to be, but all her deep need was met by her Lord who knew her perfectly. He knew all her sins and did not spurn her, and in Him she could rest; at His feet her storm-tossed soul and unsatisfied heart found all for which they had longed. Heaven looked on and saw in the Pharisee a child of folly, and in the sinner a child of wisdom, and heaven's judgment is just and final. And the Father looked on and judged between these two. He could feel nothing but displeasure for the Pharisee who despised His well-beloved Son, but He loved the sinner who adored Him. We know He did, for Jesus said, "The Father Himself loveth you because ye have loved Me!" and she loved much, hence she was greatly loved of the Father.
The unspoken reasoning of the Pharisee was suddenly arrested by a challenge from the Lord: "Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee," and he said, "Master, say on." Then the Lord propounded to him one of His most beautiful parables, beautiful in its simplicity. "There was a certain creditor which had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?" It required no special acuteness of mind to discover the answer to that riddle, and Simon was compelled to give it, though he did it without enthusiasm. What personal interest could he have in such a topic? and what was his Guest driving at, anyway? He was not a debtor; he had harmed nobody. He was not like this poor sinner; he had always met every just due and demand; and as for God, well, was he not a Pharisee, fasting twice a week, saying his prayers, paying his tithes, and was not that enough? What need had he for forgiveness who had never felt a burden or acknowledged a debt? Those words of the parable, "He frankly forgave," might thrill others, but there was no warmth, no music in them for him. This Guest of his evidently had no sense of the fitness of things. He ought to have fiercely denounced the extortion of the tax-booths and the sins of the streets, or the follies of the court and society might have been a timely subject for discussion; but creditors, and debtors, and frank forgiveness! These belonged to a sphere of life for which Simon cared nothing, and so, with Pharisaical luke-warmness, he gave his answer, "I suppose, that he, to whom he forgave most."
How swiftly the Lord turned his answer against him and showed him that while the sinner's heart was warm with much love that poured itself out in gratitude and adoration at the feet of her Lord, he remained coldly critical.
Who would have such a heart as Simon had? An unforgiven heart that has never been moved with gratitude to the Saviour and has no love for Him? A heart that has never felt the utter alienation of its sinfulness from God? Such a heart is a dead heart, dead and cold as stone, except when some sinful passion moves it to beat with selfish interest. To live like that is to be twice dead, and to die like that is to be damned in unforgiven sin for ever.
We do not envy the feelings of the Pharisee as he listened to the Lord's words, but, thank God, many of us can understand what the feelings of the poor sinner were as she heard Him say, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven." David described the blessedness of the man whose sins are forgiven, and this woman knew it. I know it, and I thank God if you know it also. Yet what words can describe this blessedness? The quietness after the storm, the relief after the oppression, the deep, holy peace that fills the heart as the sense of forgiveness steals over it! To sink down into the arms of a pardoning God and to rest on His bosom, the bosom from which the pardon flows, this is a never-to-be-forgotten experience and none who have known it can ever think lightly of it!
A Pharisee could not know it, nor any man who excuses his sins or hides them or refuses to admit to God and himself that he is a sinner. But those who have felt the smart and sting of sin, those who have tried in vain to slay the serpent that has bitten them, they will know it. Those who have discovered that their sins are neither dead nor done with, who have groaned in the night at the memory of them, and found that they could not escape them, that with persistent feet they pursue them and gather round them pointing accusing fingers at them, crying, "Thou art the man," they are on the verge of blessing.
Those whose consciences are awakened, who feel that it is against God that they have sinned, who have looked into the abyss of horror into which their sins were carrying them, these will find no relief, no refuge, no hope except in Jesus, and to Him they will come, as came this woman, with broken and contrite hearts, and He will receive them and frankly forgive them. They cannot forgive themselves, neither angel nor man can clear them, but God can, and He will for Jesus' sake. Forgiveness is His grand prerogative, and when conscience-stricken, sin-laden, honest at last, they come to Him, He frankly forgives. This is Bible truth, this is the first glad note of the gospel, it is the first ray of light that shines from the Saviour's face into the sinner's heart, and the experience of multitudes has answered to it as the diamond flashes back the light of the sun.
And now the Lord deals only with the woman at His feet. It seems as though the Pharisee and his guests with their questionings and scorn fade away into their own insignificance and are blotted out, and we see the Saviour, benign and kind, bending over the weeping, wondering penitent, and by His words, hushing her every fear and answering her every question. He speaks of the past, "Thy sins are forgiven thee;" He speaks of the future, "Thy faith hath saved thee"; He speaks of the present, "Go in peace." And as she arose and went to her house or tarried in the streets until He should come forth, do you think she envied even the most exalted woman in the land? Oh, now she had got what wealth and honours could not purchase, what He alone could give, and she was satisfied.
Let none of us who have believed, imagine we are but little debtors needing only a little forgiveness, for such have little love. They know not the rapture of a glowing and expanding heart, their souls cannot warm towards the Saviour who died for them. They must be ever half-hearted towards their Lord and have little pity or care for weary, burdened, brokenhearted sinners. We are, I trust, like this woman at the great Redeemer's feet, we had nothing to bring to Him but our sins, and these were many, consequently we could only look for pardon, though wrath was our desert. We know the relief, the joy that a full, frank forgiveness gives and we can sing the glad song of the Psalmist, "Blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered."
How great is the price that has been paid to secure this blessing for us, and how great a blessing it is! Even in those parts of the Word of God which unfold for us the highest truths we are reminded of it. In the Epistle to the Ephesians we read, "In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." Yes, the price that has been paid for this priceless blessing is the precious blood of Jesus.
Let Simon sit, smug and critical, tearless and cold, in his Pharisaical pride, despising alike the Forgiver and the forgiven, with him we have nothing in common, for we have sinned much and been forgiven much; we are much loved and must love much in return. We do not sit with the Pharisee, but we fall with the sinner at those feet which were beautiful upon the mountains, bringing good tidings and publishing peace, feet that were pierced and wounded for us at Calvary, the feet of Jesus. There we pour out our gratitude and our adoration and feel the strength of those cords of love that bind our hearts to our Saviour and make us His willing slaves for ever. FOR TO WHOM MUCH IS FORGIVEN, THE SAME LOVETH MUCH.
And in the Garden — a Tomb!
It was in a garden that the Son of God was betrayed; in a garden He was crucified; in a garden He was buried. The traitor, the cross, and a tomb were all the world had for Him! It was not in the uncultivated and wild part of the earth, in the habitations of cruelty, where the naked savage lived his ignorant and degraded life that this stupendous crime was committed, but where men boasted of their culture and religion and justice. "The princes of this world crucified the Lord of glory." "In the place where He was crucified was a garden."
"Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they JESUS." — John 19:41.
A garden! We all love a garden; it means to us the fair sunlight or restful shade; it means beauty and fragrance and colour, and the song of birds, and the joy and ease of life. But in the garden a tomb! Ah! that is another matter. At the sight or mention of a tomb we rise up as though fearing the attack of an unseen foe, the air grows cold, the music dies, and life droops. We love a garden, but not a tomb, for the tomb means — What does it mean? If your heart can tell you, then you know, but if it cannot, you do not know. But suppose your heart could tell you all that it was possible for a human heart to know of the defeat and humiliation, the disappointment and loss, and sadness and tears that the tomb in the garden means, the full truth of it would still remain untold.
But why should a tomb force itself into the same sentence as a garden? Cannot we have a garden without a tomb? May we not exult in a garden without a tomb near by to cast its shadow on our joy? No we cannot, they are brought together in God's Word with a purpose, and they cannot be divorced in this earthly life. The garden first and then the tomb, thus is the story told, and how many have heard it and learnt it in bitter woe, and have seen how soon the garden can shrivel and shrink and all its beauty disappear, while the tomb spreads wide its base and rears its monstrous head until naught save itself is seen in earth or sky.
It is not a tomb and then a garden; that is not the order here. It is the habit of civilized man to plant a garden round a tomb. Sentiment demands it, and the heart cries out for a garment with which to cover naked death, and chooses flowers; and they spring and bloom as a tribute — yes, and perhaps in defiance, in feeble defiance of the tomb. But it is not that here, it is beauty yielding to corruption, joy ending in sorrow, day fading into night, life closing in death. In the garden a tomb.
But why is it so? There was once a garden that God planted "eastward in Eden and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden" — and there was no tomb there. But that old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, entered into that enclosure of life, and secured the ear of the man's wife and stirred the ambitions of the man, and they thought that the devil's lie was better than God's truth, and with the hands that God had made the gate was opened wide for the destroyer, "and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12). And since that day the tomb has been with us. No matter how full of promise and hope and prophecy a garden may have been, the tomb was there, for sin was there, and death came in with sin and will not retire so long as sin remains. That is why.
It is remarkable that God started man upon his career in a garden. Not in primordial slime as a wriggling maggot, or in the virgin forest as a chattering ape, as the scientists, "falsely so called," would teach us — men who have grown wise in their own conceits, and think their own guesses to be better than God's own account of things — but in a garden, a scene of ordered beauty and delights, planned and planted by God's own hand. In that garden man stood erect, for "God hath made man upright." He did not creep or crawl or climb, he was created in the image and likeness of God, a creature made to turn his eyes upward to his Creator, and there was nothing lacking in his fair surroundings to complete his joy, and no tomb was there to cause him grief. So satisfied should he have been with the bounty of his God, that the tempter would have shrunk abashed from the fulness of his gratitude. But it was not so, his glorious heritage did not content him, he craved for that which God had withheld, and through that uncurbed desire he fell. Thus death passed upon him, and as no tomb could be in the garden where grew the tree of life, he was banished from it, a sinful and dying man, his only prospect on earth a tomb. Such was man's brief history in God's garden without a tomb.
He carried out of that earthly paradise, however, a craving for beautiful surroundings, and has laboured incessantly to secure them; but if God's garden did not satisfy him, it is certain that his own cannot, and in his own garden there is always a tomb to mock his best endeavours. And is there no hope? Shall the tomb for ever triumph? Let us see.
Among the writers of the New Testament, John is the only one who speaks of a garden. He is always great on environment; he writes as an eye-witness, which indeed he was. The setting is necessary in his Gospel to bring out either the full beauty or the stark nakedness of the deeds he records. So he speaks of a garden, and with it he shows us a traitor, a cross, and a tomb. I confess that when I first saw the garden as John shows it to us, it startled me. The purpose of John's Gospel is to present the great fact that God has come down to men. In it we learn that THE WORD was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. And can it be possible that when He came, so suitable to the deep need of men, and entered into man's garden, that He was confronted by the traitor, and condemned to a cross and laid in a tomb? He the Prince of Life, the Father's only Son? Yes, so it was, men had nothing better than that for Him. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not" (John 1:10); and when men saw Him they hated Him without a cause, and said, "This is the Heir, come let us kill Him."
The traitor's kiss ranks as the most dastardly deed ever perpetrated beneath the heavens, and the name of Judas is universally execrated, but what of the men who gave him the money, who bribed him to betray his Master into their murderous hands? They were the chief priests, the teachers of morality and religion. The cultivation of what is best in man was supposed to be in their hands, and they should have driven the covetous wretch from their presence with scorn when he made his base proposal, but they did not; they had determined to rid themselves of Jesus, there was no place for Him in their scheme of things, and they were glad to have the traitor as a confederate in their crime, for they were as base as he. So the Lord of glory was betrayed in a garden, not in the bleak wilderness, where He had hungered for forty days before His conflict with the devil, but in the garden, in a spot that had been tamed and cultivated by man's labour. Thither He had resorted with His disciples for prayer, and it was there that His quietude — for the agony was past — was rudely broken by the advent of the soldiers led by the traitor.
But that was only the beginning of the treachery and insult, and unparalleled cruelty that He had to suffer. Who can describe the road that He trod from the garden to the high priest's house, and from there to the court of Pilate, mocked by Jew and Gentile, beaten, spit upon, scourged, crowned with thorns and condemned to die, until at last, with a cross upon His shoulders He reached the garden again? The garden of the cross may not have been the garden of the betrayal, but this we know, for the Scripture tells us, that "in the place where He was crucified there was a garden" (John 19:41).
Raised above every plant and tree in that garden was the "plant of renown," the Son of God nailed to a cross, and in the presence of it we bow; we bow our heads with shame for the sin of man, we bow our hearts with adoration for the love of God. Man's sin and God's love! they met in that cross, and it was the proof and the measure of both. It may have seemed to us, when first we thought of it, that God did a harsh thing when he drove the man and his wife from Eden for one act of disobedience; but Golgotha clearly declares what lay in that act. It was a blow aimed at the supremacy of God, an act of rebellion against His throne, a challenge to His majesty, and last but not least, a refusal to believe His goodness and love.
From the time of the fall onward the chief aim of man was to cultivate his own powers; to make himself independent of God, and to make things pleasant for himself at a distance from God. Alas, he was cultivating an evil nature; hatred of God lay at the very root of it; a hatred so fierce and intractable that all the grace that was in Jesus failed to abate it. Nothing would satisfy it but the murder of the One who was the Word become flesh, and that murder was of the most deliberate and calculated kind. Not only must the greatest physical suffering be inflicted on the Object of their hatred, but His every sensibility must be outraged and His character defamed for all time. So He was numbered with the transgressors, laughed to scorn by those who beheld His suffering and shame, and given a felon's death. It was not in the uncultivated and wild part of the earth, in the habitations of cruelty, where the naked savage lived his ignorant and degraded life that this sin of mankind was consummated. No, it was "the princes of this world" that "crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor. 2:8) — "In the place where He was crucified there was a garden."
If that climax of all sin had been the only side of the cross, there would have been no hope. But God's love was greater than man's sin. If the cross is dark with the blackness of man's hatred, it is bright with the glory of God's love and through it He commends that love towards us, for while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). Raised up there on the cross in man's garden, Jesus was the tree of life, which if a man eat the fruit of it he shall live for ever. And that cross which on man's part was only hatred and murder, has become a new and living way by which sinful men may enter into everlasting blessing; it is the door into a heavenly paradise where death can never come. Thus did grace much more abound where sin abounded.
Now the malice of men would have pursued the Lord beyond death, for "they appointed His grave with the wicked" as Isaiah 53 should read. They had prepared a rough hole near the cross in which to cast His body with those of the thieves who had also died there; but God intervened and "He was with the rich in His death." In the garden there was "a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus."
It was a new tomb; we must lay emphasis upon this. There had never been a tomb like it before, if we judge it by what was laid in it, and by what came out of it. To that hour the grave had stood first in the list of those things that are never satisfied. It had never cried "It is enough." And with one exception, when it had bowed to the authority of the living Lord, it held its prey with relentless power. There had ever been a natural affinity between the tomb and what it held, for God had said, "Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return." But in this new tomb and its occupant there was no such affinity. The death of Jesus was voluntary. He died for the sake of His flock. No man took His life from Him, He had laid it down of Himself. He had power both to lay it down and to take it again. He was the Holy One of God and could see no corruption; death had no claim upon Him, and so the tomb could not hold Him. The grave had never received such an occupant to its close embrace before; it had triumphed hitherto, but now there had entered into it the One who was to break its power for ever.
There seemed to be an eagerness on the part of the Jews to be rid of His body, for they begged Pilate that it, with those of the thieves, might be taken away, and Pilate seems to have been relieved when Joseph besought him that he might have it, for he readily gave consent, and the world rejoiced when the tomb closed upon Jesus. But what a wonderful Seed was sown in the tomb in the garden with the tears and lamentations of Joseph and Nicodemus and the women! And how wonderful was the springing up of that Seed on the resurrection morning! Ah, then was the day of victory, the beginning of a new creation.
The garden had been the scene of man's treachery and shame, of Satan's long mastery over man and the length to which he could drive him, and of the power of the grave. It was now the scene of God's victory, sorrow had given place to joy, the night had vanished before the morning light, death had given place to life, for as by man came death, so by man came also the resurrection from the dead, and the joy of heaven found expression in the angel's words, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen." "Come, see the place where the Lord lay." An empty tomb at last! The pledge and token of victory over it for all who are Christ's; for Christ is the firstfruits; afterwards they that are Christ's at His coming.
The faith of the believer links him up with God's victory, and that vacant new tomb in the garden has changed everything for him, for he possesses a life in the risen Christ that death cannot destroy; and his hopes and joys are no longer resting in a garden, the beauty of which is all spoiled by death and the grave, but he looks on to the time when he will "eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7). And if he falls asleep through Jesus, he does so in the sure hope that his body, sown in corruption, shall be raised in incorruption; sown in dishonour, shall be raised in glory; sown in weakness, shall be raised in power. But while such a glorious hope is certain for the Christian if he dies, it is not certain that he will die, for, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:51-57).
It is the light of that world into which death can never enter, that, shining into the heart of the believer, enables him to turn his back upon the earth and lay hold on eternal life. And while he does not feel the less that death is here, it holds no terrors for him since his Lord both died and rose again. He may sorrow, but not as those who have no hope, for he has a hope which is as an anchor both sure and steadfast, which holds his soul amid the storms and stress of life, if I may for a moment pass from a garden in which the tomb is to the sea where the tempests rage. It is a blessed hope. "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
Then shall we eat of "the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" where no tomb will ever be, "for God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away."
"WHEREFORE COMFORT ONE ANOTHER WITH THESE WORDS" (1 Thess. 4:18).
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: His poverty and our wealth
He knew in His own experience the hardships and trials that the poor have to endure, and He cannot forget. He lived a poor man without a resting place for His head, He suffered hunger, thirst and weariness. He was no mere philanthropist or patron of the poor, paying sympathetic visits to their mean dwellings, and when weary of sordid surroundings retiring to the comfort of a lordly home. No. He was one of the poor. He shared their sorrows, their woes. He was the Man of Sorrows. I proclaim Him as the Friend of the poor, and of the sinful, weary, broken-hearted men and women. He calls to you to-day, "Come unto Me, and I will give you rest." Did ever agitator or politician talk to you like that?
"Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich." — 1 Cor. 8:9.
This gem of Scripture cannot strictly be called a gospel text, for it was written to those who were already saved, and forms part of an exhortation to them not to be mean or niggardly in their giving, but to give cheerfully and liberally as those ought who have been enriched by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Nevertheless it is full of gospel, for it is full of Christ, and the gospel of God is concerning Him.
Notice first the confidence that rings triumphantly in the opening words of it. "Ye know," says the apostle. And is not this worth something in a world in which men can be sure of nothing except that they must die some day? This is not the first time that such language is used in this epistle. In chapter 5 we read, "We know that if this earthly house of our tabernacle were dissolved we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Only the gospel can give this confidence; such language as this belongs only to the family of God; it can only be learnt by His children, for it is taught only by the Holy Ghost. The agnostic cannot use such words. He may laugh at faith and be proud of his ignorance when in health, and be buoyed up by the shams of this life, and yet the cry of the soul of the agnostic for light cannot altogether be silenced. Hear what one of them has written:
"Is there beyond the silent night
An endless day?
Is death a door that leads to light?
WE CANNOT SAY.
The tongueless secret locked in fate,
WE DO NOT KNOW,
We hope and wait."
Yet when brought face to face with death this same eloquent atheist was compelled to abandon the "don't know" mood, and own that he was sure of something, but it was only of darkness and disaster. Speaking at the graveside of his own brother, he said, Whether in mid-seas or among the breakers of the farther shore, a wreck must mark the last end of each and all. Every life, no matter if its every hour is rich with love and every moment jewelled with a joy, will at its close become a tragedy as sad and deep and dark as can be woven of the warp and woof of mystery and death." How differently can the Christian look into the future. I had a friend in Australia who had served the Lord for fifty years, and he was dying. A stroke of paralysis had robbed him of the power of speech. His Christian family was gathered at his bedside, and one of them, longing for a farewell word from the dearly-loved father, asked, "Have you not something to say to us, father?" He heard the earnest question and his eyes expressed his desire to answer it, but his lips could not frame the words. But some years before, he had learnt the deaf-mute's alphabet in order to preach the gospel to an afflicted neighbour, and now this knowledge came to his aid, and he spelt out on his fingers one word — G-L-O-R-Y; and in five minutes he was there. There was no tragedy there, no wreck. He sailed into harbour triumphantly, more than a conqueror through Him that loved him.
But my text speaks not of the future but of the present — it tells us of a present possession. "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." We are not waiting for this, we know it now, and notice how the Saviour is described — He is OUR Lord Jesus Christ. Thus can the believer speak of Him, and no power can rob us of His grace, no change can separate us from Him —
Jesus, my soul from Thee,
No power can sever;
Saviour Thou art to me,
Now and for ever.
And here stands out in contrast the Christian's possession to those of which the man of the world boasts. He talks about his home, his wife, his family, business, money. Your money, your business, sir! But whose may these be tomorrow? If they are yours, hold them. Let no thief rob you, let no reverse beggar you. And your home! If it is yours, guard it well, keep all sorrow out of it; and as for death! Well, death has entered many a home as happy as yours. Yes, entered though the doors were locked and barred against him, and having entered he had his way in spite of the doctor's skill and nurse's care. Some day he will enter your home, and though you stand up and challenge his right to be there, he will not heed you; and you will discover that the tenure of your possession was a short one, and that your loved treasures were but loaned to you for a while, and that death had a claim that could not be denied when his turn came. And what of yourself? Think of the day when death will not claim yours but you. Ah, how poor you will be then if Christless!
But how do we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? His wisdom and power are clearly written in creation —
"All worlds His glorious power confess,
His wisdom all His works express."
But here it is not power or wisdom — these could never have won the hearts of sinful men — it is grace; and we know His grace by the fact that He became poor for our sakes. Mark well what the Scripture says. He was rich, and He became poor. A Christadelphian in conversation with me denied the eternal Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ; he argued that He began His existence in the manger at Bethlehem. My answer was this text. If what the Christadelphian professed to believe was the truth, then our Lord never was rich before He was poor, and our text is a lie. There was none poorer than He on that day when He was born in David's city. He was born in a stable. And why? Because His virgin-mother could not pay for a room in the inn when the time for His birth had come, so poor was she. There was no room in that inn, I know, but if Mary could have paid more than people more fortunate in that respect than she had paid, would not the inn-keeper have made profit for himself out of consideration of her need, and driven somebody else into the stable? But it was not to be. The Son of God must come into the world in the direst poverty, an outcast from His birth. Yet He was rich before He became poor. And if any ask how that could be, the one and only answer is, He was God before He became man; if His Deity is taken out of the verse it is robbed of all its meaning. The Christadelphian was deceived, he had believed a lie. Our Saviour is the eternal God, He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich.
Who can tell how rich He was? Creature thought, no matter how high it soars is here confounded. We know that the universe proceeded from Him, for "all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made" (John 1). The "Russellites" teach that He was the first of all creatures to be created, wrongly interpreting the Scripture which speaks of Him as the "First-born of every creature" (Col. 1), which means that in Creation He has the First-born's place — the place of pre-eminence. If it meant what they say it means, He must have created Himself — which is utterly absurd, for that same Scripture continues, "For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist" (Col. 1:16, 17). He is the Creator and not a creature, though He became Man and was poor for the sake of His creatures, He was never less than their Creator.
What infinite resources and power and wisdom were His, the greatest spirit among the principalities and powers in the heavens, and the minutest insect that functions for an hour and dies, were created by Him, and each has its place in the universe according to the design of the Creator. But more than this, He was the Only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father. He could speak of the love that the Father bore Him before the foundations of the world were laid, and of the glory that He had with the Father before time began. How rich He was, yet He became poor for our sakes. For your sake, burdened, anxious sinner! Does not this thought overwhelm you, and fill your heart with gratitude and praise? Not for the sake of angels, or for sinless creatures who had never dreamt of defying His will, but for us who had sinned and who were saturated with sin! He who spake, and the worlds were made, He, who upholds the universe and controls every force within it; even "fire and hail, snow and vapour, and stormy wind fulfilling His word." He became poor for us, who slighted and hated Him.
And mystery divine;
The voice that speaks in thunder
Says, Sinner, I am thine.'"
This is grace indeed! Unmerited favour! It is the love and mercy of God shown out to those who only deserve His wrath.
I pass by the poverty that He must have known in the humble home of a village carpenter, only remarking that He who was to preach the gospel to the poor must Himself know in His own experience the hardships and trials that the poor have to endure. Yes, He suffered these hardships and He does not, He cannot, forget. He grew up amid circumstances of poverty, He lived, a poor man, without a resting place for His head, He suffered hunger, thirst and weariness. He was no mere philanthropist or patron of the poor, paying sympathetic visits to their mean dwellings and when weary of their sordid surroundings retiring to the comforts of a lordly home. No, He was one of the poor Himself, He shared their sorrows, their woes. He was the Man of sorrows. And it was for our sakes. And He who was poor, is now the poor man's Friend. I proclaim Him as the Friend of the sinful and the poor. Oh, if men understood this, they would turn from their false friends, whose vain words and empty promises can only fill them with discontent, and deceive and disappoint them, and they would find a Friend in Jesus who would not fail them. Weary, burdened, broken-hearted men and women, He calls you to-day. O, hear His blessed voice, "Come unto Me and I will give you rest." Did ever agitator or politician talk to you like that?
But it was not until He hung upon the Cross that He reached the depth of poverty. He was there for our transgressions, delivered for our offences, He suffered for our sins. For our sakes He endured that cross. "It was for sinners Jesus died." No riches, no blessing, could have reached us if He had not suffered there; we should have been bankrupt sinners for ever, unforgiven and lost, if Jesus had not died.
We have the forgiveness of sins through His blood. God will remember no more the sins and iniquities of those who believe, because Jesus died and paid in death the price that cancels them for ever. How wonderful is the proclamation of sin's forgiveness through His Name, but there is more than that; that would have been a priceless boon if it had stood alone; but there is more, we are enriched; the unsearchable riches of Christ are opened to us by the gospel. Who can tell the value to us of the Holy Spirit who is given unto us? Who can measure our possessions as heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ Jesus? How shall we explain what it is to be accepted in Him the Beloved? The very fullness of God is revealed for our joy, and the love of Christ that passeth knowledge. Yes, beggars from the dunghill are set among princes, those of low degree are exalted, and the hungry are filled with good things; but it is because He, who was rich, became poor for our sakes.
He is no longer poor, for He rose again from the grave. Jesus lives! God hath made this same Jesus both Lord and Christ, and in this we can rejoice. If we know Him as our Saviour, we love Him and rejoice in His exaltation but that which draws the sweetest praise from ransomed hearts is not the exaltation of the present, or the glory of the future, but the sorrow of the past; for us He became poor. This will be the subject of our wonder and worship for ever.
The Credentials of our Lord: The Shepherd and His Sheep
Invincible love and omnipotence dwell in Him; the tenderest heart and the strongest hand in the universe are His. How matchless He is! How worthy to be trusted! Supremely blest are all they who follow Him!
"I am the good Shepherd: the good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep. . . . Therefore doth My Father love me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again." — John 10.
Men must have a leader, and how ready they are to follow any upstart who can make enough promises of good times to come, and how constantly disappointed and deceived they are by those they follow. That must be the experience through life of all, until they find and follow the true Leader, the One whom God has appointed to be the Shepherd and Leader of men.
There is an old text which used to be quoted a great deal more by gospel preachers than it is now; it runs like this, "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way." Those solemn words were true of every one of us; they are true to-day of every man who has not listened to the God-appointed Shepherd of His sheep. Yes, whether you follow some demagogue with the silly crowd, or choose a leader from the learned amongst men, or refuse to be cajoled by any, and tread an independent road of your own, you go astray. You can only tread the paths of righteousness which end in the eternal glory of God as you follow the One whom God has ordained to be your Leader.
The question is of first importance; the eternal welfare of our souls depends upon our having the right Leader, and God has not been indifferent to this. He promised in the Old Testament Scriptures that He would raise up the One men need, One who would be able to combine in Himself faithfulness to God and mercy to us, and it is for us to search and see how wonderfully His promise has been fulfilled. In the tenth chapter of John, the Lord Jesus presents to us His credentials. He tells us that He is the Shepherd, the Leader, and I propose to examine with you His credentials so that we may prove whether He is the One who should come or whether we should look for another.
1 HE COMES IN BY THE DOOR
"He that entereth in by the door is the Shepherd of the sheep" (verse 2).
The door is the appointed way of entrance, and in the first place we ask, is Jesus indeed the Christ, and did He come in by the appointed way? Did He come in the way in which God said He would in the Old Testament Scriptures? Did He fulfil the ancient Word? Let us see. He is introduced to us in Matthew's Gospel; but how shall we know that it is He of whom wonderful things were foretold? Well, He must be the Son of a virgin-daughter of David's royal house; for seven centuries before He came, Isaiah had prophesied that the great sign of God's intervention on behalf of men would be "A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (Isa. 7:14). And Matthew gives us the fulfilment of this, for the angel of the Lord appeared unto Joseph in a dream, saying, "Thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet" (Matt. 1:20-22) — and will the critic please note that it was the Lord that spoke in these prophecies. Thus we have the manner of His birth in full accord with the prophetic word.
Then the place of His birth was predicted by Micah another prophet of God, and the visit of the wise men from the East, and their mistaken notion that He who was the king of the Jews must necessarily be born in their capital city, is used to call our attention to the fulfilment of this. For the scribes, when Herod demanded of them where Christ should be born, said, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel" (Matt. 2:5, 6).
Remember that the home of Joseph and Mary was in Galilee, and it was an Imperial decree that carried them to Bethlehem the royal city, according to the prophetic word. The empurpled Caesar little thought when he vaunted his world-wide authority that he was bringing to pass the will of God and demonstrating the fact that the Scriptures are inspired by God; yet so it was. But what a tale of grace is here unfolded; this decree caused Mary and Joseph to be homeless strangers in Bethlehem, with no shelter but a shed, and no bed but a manger when the Holy Christ, the Son of the Highest was born.
But at this point a problem faces us. Micah had said that Bethlehem was to be the place of the birth of Christ, but fifty years earlier Hosea had spoken the word of God saying, "I called my son out of Egypt." This problem, however, is solved by the fact that the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and warned him that Herod would seek the young Child's life. So he arose and he "took the young Child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt" (Matt. 2:14). And when this was done we read, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet (note again that the Lord is the speaker) saying, Out of Egypt have I called My Son" (Matt. 2:15).
We should have thought that the birth of the long-promised Deliverer would have filled the land with joy, but instead Jeremiah had spoken of lamentation and bitter weeping. This also was fulfilled when Herod in his determination to destroy Jesus commanded that all the children in Bethlehem under the age of two years should be slain, for we read, "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not" (Matt. 2:17, 18).
Again, He was to be despised by the great and haughty of the land; hence Joseph did not return to the royal Bethlehem from Egypt, but turned aside to the despised Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene" (Matt. 2:23).
It would be a pleasant task to continue showing how step by step in His life from the manger to the Cross, Jesus answered to the Word, fulfilling the law and the prophets. See how all the sufferings and shame of crucifixion are detailed in Psalm 22, when, as it has been pointed out, crucifixion was not a Jewish mode of execution. The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus could not have been anticipated by David's or any other Hebrew mind; it was God who inspired that prophetic Psalm, and the Gospels give us the fulfilment of it in Christ's death.
The first proof then that this is "He of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write" is that in His coming, His life, and His death, He fulfilled the Word that was spoken of Him.
2. HE IS GOD.
It is clear from those Old Testament Scriptures which speak of the Shepherd that He is God the Creator. Take Isaiah 40 as an example: "Say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! . . . He shall feed His flock like a Shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arms, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out heaven with a span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?" Can the lowly Nazarene, who was despised by the people, be indeed the Shepherd, so infinitely great and yet so good and gentle, as is described in this glorious Scripture? Well, in our chapter twice over He says, I am the good Shepherd," and in so saying He declared that He was God.
It is said by the religious enemies of the truth of the Person of Jesus that He did not lay claim to Deity in the Synoptic Gospels, and that the author of the Fourth Gospel cannot be trusted. But they who thus talk read the Gospels with blind hearts; the truth as to the Lord's Deity is woven into the very texture of all the Gospels, just as the gold was woven with the blue and scarlet and fine twined linen in the ephod of Aaron, and to tear it out would leave the whole fabric of them nothing more than useless rags. And here in this tenth chapter of John He declares His Deity, for here we have not the words of His disciples about Him, even though their words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but His own words about Himself. He says, "I am the good Shepherd" and the Shepherd of Israel was the Almighty Creator of the heavens and the earth.
He also says, "I and My Father are One." Whatever modernists may think of this declaration, the Jews had no doubt as to the meaning of it, for they took up stones to stone Him for blasphemy, saying, "Thou being a man makest thyself God." If we believe that the truth flowed from His lips without adulteration, we must accept this word as it stands; we have no alternative; to refuse it is to brand our Lord as the supreme imposter of all time. It was a great declaration, and it must be owned that for a man to have made it opens up a tremendous question. If He was not what He said He was, those Jews were right when they took up those stones to stone Him for blasphemy; if He lied, He was neither God nor from God, for "it is impossible for God to lie."
He makes another declaration in this chapter which will help us in this matter. He says, "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down Myself, I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father" (verses 17, 18). What man who ever lived but He could make such a statement? No man taketh My life from Me! That means that it was impossible for men to slay Him; in intent they did it, on their part no effort was spared to bring Him down to death, from this point of view they were His murderers; but when they had done all that their devil-inspired malice could devise, He voluntarily laid down His life as a sacrifice for sin. He did not die by the violence of men, nor by any natural cause. I know the popular hymn says, "He died of a broken heart." It is not true. But was not His heart broken? It was indeed. "Reproach," He said, "hath broken My heart." But He lived with a broken heart. The lowly Man of Sorrows stretched forth His hands in earnest entreaty to men all the day long, and they answered Him with reproach and rejection. And His tender heart was broken by their conduct; but He lived on until His hour was come; then He yielded up His life as a sacrifice for sin, so that when the soldiers came to close up the work of that brutal day, they marvelled that He was dead already. One act alone on their part remained to be done, and that was to pierce His sacred side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. "And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe." (John 19:35). But why this care to emphasize the fact that blood and water flowed forth? Well, whoever in the history of the world had beheld blood and water flowing from the side of a dead man? Yet John saw it, and what he saw proved that the death of Jesus was supernatural even as His birth was.
In His own power and right, and yet in obedience to His Father's commandment He yielded up His life; and by that same power and right, and according to that same commandment, He has taken His life up again. Death has met his Master, the power of the grave has been brought to naught; the gates of the morning were lifted up for Him, and the King of Glory, the Lord of hosts, sits now in the glory where He was before, glorified with the glory that He had with the Father before the world began; and thus is proved the truth of His word, "I and My Father are One."
3. HE MUST SAVE HIS SHEEP FROM EVERY THREATENING FOE.
To whom do the sheep belong? They belong to God. We might spend much time and gain much profit in searching out the Scriptures that declare this. One comes readily to mind. In Acts 20:28, Paul, the Apostle, speaks of the blood-purchased Church of God as the flock of God. In our chapter, Jesus claims them as His, but to establish this claim He had to meet the foe and take them from his power. The hireling, whose own the sheep are not, will not suffer to save the sheep; but the Shepherd, who loves them with a never-dying love, will face every foe and every question on their behalf. He became Man that He might die for them, for they lay under the condemnation of death, and only His death could deliver them from this; and by dying, He destroyed him that had the power of death, which is the devil, and so He delivered them from the bondage in which they were held.
Death rolled like a mighty flood between us and eternal blessing. No leader could be of any use to us but one who could subdue those awful waves and make a way through them along which we could travel out of death into life. This Christ has done by His dying.
"He Satan's power laid low;
Made sin, sin's reign o'erthrew;
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,
And death by dying slew."
The great prophet Isaiah anticipated this great Victor for the flock of God when he cried, "Art Thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?" And the answer comes, "I am the Lord thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: the Lord of hosts is His Name." "Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away" (Isaiah 51).
4. HE MUST PRESERVE THEM FOR EVER, SO THAT NONE OF THEM PERISH.
This also He declares that He will do. How full of comfort are His words. "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand" (John 10:27, 28).
Here we learn His ability to keep His own, and if He is able all who trust Him must be safe. The hand that holds them is the hand that broke the power of death, it is the hand of a Man in which omnipotence dwells, and so those whom He leads will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Does not the Psalm say so? "The Lord is my Shepherd . . . I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." Nothing else is possible. The Psalm that begins with "The Lord is my Shepherd" would not be complete if it did not end "in the house of the Lord for ever"; for His sheep shall never perish. Yea, though they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, they shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever, for He will not abandon them until He gets them there. How could He, since He paid so great a price for them ! How could He, since He has pledged His word that He will hold them in eternal security!
Consider well these four great proofs that Jesus is the one and only Shepherd and Leader for us men; there are other proofs of this in this chapter but these are enough for my purpose; they prove that our Lord stands without a rival. Invincible love and Almighty power dwell in Him; the tenderest heart and the strongest hand in the universe are His. How matchless He is! How supremely blest are all they who put their trust in Him.
Faith, Faithfulness, Fellowship
No miracle was wrought to save the Son of God from death and there He hung, dishonoured and dead, the whole world against Him, and the world apparently triumphant. He had pleaded with men, toiled for them, wept for them, and now He had died for them. Will His death be in vain? Will any amongst the vast multitude that gathered to watch that crucifixion be moved by it? Shall there be any response in any man to this boundless love ere the sun goes down?
"And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe."
"After this came Joseph of Arimathea."
"And there came also Nicodemus." — John 19.
We begin with faith. Faith is the response in a human heart to a Divine revelation. God says it, I believe it. That is faith.
God has made a full revelation of Himself. He has shown to men what He is, but when He did it we were not there to see, and if the revelation is to affect us and bless us, if we are to believe and understand it, we must have a true record of it, a divinely inspired record, and such we have here. "He that saw it bare record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true; THAT YE MIGHT BELIEVE." What was it that he saw? The Son of God hanging dead upon a cross, with blood and water flowing from His wounded side. That was a great sight, and God commends it to our special attention.
Since the time that the startled earth was first made to drink the blood of a man, foully slain by the son of his own mother, there had been millions of deaths in the world, for death from that time was as common as birth, and tears and misery. We do not wonder at that, for when by one man, Adam, sin entered into the world, death followed quickly and irrevocably upon its heels, and it has passed upon all his children and claimed them as its rightful prey. These multitudes who had died were all creatures whose lives were forfeited to their Creator; they commenced their journey to the grave with the first breath that they drew, for not one of them was without sin. There was nothing noteworthy in the death of any of them, for death was the common lot, but in the death of this Man whom John saw yield up His life there was. Death had no claim upon Him at all, for He was not a sinner, but the holy, sinless Son of God. He had shown Himself to be the Master of death before many witnesses on at least three occasions, for He was the Word, the Creator and Life-giver. Yet He died, and because of what He was and who He was, His death is unique. Never had there been one like it before, and never shall there be one like it again. It stands alone, unrivalled, to be unforgotten for ever and ever. An eye-witness has recorded the fact. He did not argue about it, there is no room for argument, the fact was too stupendous; he did not even interpret it; he has simply told us what he saw, and his testimony commands our earnest consideration. It is a Holy-Ghost-inspired testimony of a great event and it cannot be ignored. It calls for our faith for it has been told us that we might believe. Yet we on our part may reverently ask for an explanation. What does the death of the Son of God, and His death in such circumstances mean? Let us see.
God sent His only-begotten Son into the world not to condemn the world but to save it. He became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. It was the day of revelation and of testing. Never before had absolute goodness appeared in the world; never before had unconditional mercy unfolded its treasures to assuage the miseries of men; never before had the full and true light shone in the darkness, for never before had God been manifested in the flesh. What was the answer to it on the part of men? Hatred, treachery and murder! "Ye have been the betrayers and murderers of the Just One," said Stephen, when he pressed home upon the leaders of the Jews their awful guilt.
"The Father sent the Son
A ruined world to save.
Man meted to the sinless One
The Cross, the grave."
As we read the record of John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," let us stand in thought near to that cross with him, and fix our earnest gaze upon the Lord as he assuredly did. Many things that are recorded for our learning and faith in the other Gospels John did not see, or if he saw them it was not his work to record them. He does not, for instance, record in such full detail the unspeakable cruelty with which men treated his Master. The other Evangelists show us that nothing was left undone that they could imagine. In the excess of their hatred they heaped suffering and shame upon Him as never was heaped upon a man before, and we do well often to read their records, that we may have no delusions as to what the heart of man is when he is put to the test. But John does not dwell on that side of the cross, he is absorbed with His Lord. So when he described the going forth to Golgotha, he is the only witness who says, "He bearing His cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull." In the other records we read that He was led forth by His foes, and John tells us this too, for that was the culmination of their guilt; but He went forth, that was the triumph of His love. He went forth; do we not discern the majesty of that lonely Man, with thorns on His head and a cross upon His shoulders? He was not driven forth or dragged forth, but in obedience to His Father's command He went forth to lay down His life and to take it again. It was this that John saw, though he could not have understood at that time the full meaning of it, and the sight made an indelible impression upon his soul. We read in the ancient Scriptures that "His goings forth have been of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5). How glorious were those goings forth when as the great Creator He cast the stars before Him as a shining pathway for His feet, and the sons of God shouted for joy as they beheld the wonders of His work, but none of those goings forth were as wonderful as this, when bearing His cross He went forth into a place called the place of a skull. In creation He displayed wisdom and power; at the cross He revealed in all their glory, righteousness and love, and fuller wisdom and greater power than were called for or possible at creation.
John heard Him cry, "It is finished," and saw Him bow His head and give up the ghost, and bears witness to what he heard and saw, and again we feel that there is a majesty about this that fills us with awe, and we do not wonder that "when the centurion (a pagan up to that moment as far as we know) which stood over against Him saw that He so cried, he said, Truly this Man was the Son of God" (Mark 15).
But John seems to gather up all his energy to bear witness to the final scene that was enacted when the Lord had yielded up His life. He tells us that "one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water." It is this that he saw, and to this he bears record, and his witness cannot be challenged, he knows that he saith true, THAT YE MIGHT BELIEVE. This witness is essential, it is vital, for here is the revelation that awakens faith and to which faith responds. What does it mean? Let us see. The devil by his subtlety in Eden turned the hearts of God's creatures from Him and made them believe that God did not love them, for was He not withholding something from them that would do them good? The poison did its deadly work, and they fell from their faith and fidelity, and from that time onward the very nature of men has been suspicion of and enmity against God, as the Scriptures declare. That enmity found its final expression in that spear thrust that rent the side of Jesus. The wickedness of men was fully exposed by it, but the blood and water was God's answer to that wickedness and to the devil's lie that was the first cause of it. In the blood we behold the triumph of God; it is the great price He paid to rescue us from darkness and destruction. His care for His creatures' blessing was fully revealed by it. It is the witness to us that GOD IS LOVE. No less a sacrifice would have done, no greater could have been given. "God spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all," and He "commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Our sins have met their judgment in the death of Christ, all that we were passed under God's condemnation when His dear Son was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. By the death of Jesus, God is just and the Justifier of all that believe. Here is solid ground upon which we may rest in peace; here is a revelation of God which calls for our willing faith. Here we meet with God in Him whom He hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, and before this mercy seat we bow down and worship. The darkness is past for us and the true light now shines, and hereby we perceive the love of God, because He laid down His life for us, and faith can sing: —
"The precious stream of water and of blood
Which from the Saviour's side so freely flowed,
Has put away our sins of scarlet dye,
Washed us from every stain and brought us nigh."
If we have believed the witness of the disciple whom Jesus loved, let us still stand with him and watch the sequence of events. The end has come. No miracle has been wrought to save the Son of God from death, and there He hung, dishonoured and dead, the whole world against Him, and the world apparently triumphant. He had pleaded with men, toiled for them, wept for them, and now He had died for them, but they knew it not and were glad to be rid of Him. But will His death be in vain? Will any amongst the vast multitude that had gathered to see that crucifixion be moved by it? Shall there be any response in any man ere the sun goes down to this boundless love? Yes, there is a movement. One man stands forward, separating himself from his fellows; he goes to Pilate and begs the body of Jesus. And now he stands beside the cross, one solitary man in the face of a hostile world. It is as though he said, "O Jews, ye have spurned Him, but I embrace Him. O world, ye have despised and crucified Him, but I love Him. I share in His shame and will bear His reproach. Christ for me. Ye are on that side, I am on this."
Heaven must have been thrilled at that sight, and so are we, as we see Joseph of Arimathea turn his back upon the world and its prizes and honours and stand friendless and alone by that cross for the love he bore the One who hung there. It was here that Paul stood when he said, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world." It was here that the Eunuch from Ethiopia stood, when, having heard from Philip that the life of Jesus was taken from the earth, he said, "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" And his identification with Christ in His death is the only place and path for the believer who would be faithful to Him. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus were baptized into His death?" and as He suffered without the gate, faithfulness demands that we should go forth unto Him bearing His reproach.
The love of Christ constrained Joseph to take his stand in faithfulness to Christ regardless of all consequences, and to take it alone; but he has no sooner done it than he is joined by another, for Nicodemus, braving the frowns and scorn of his fellow-Pharisees, throws in his lot with Joseph, and they, with two or three women, are joined together as one to do honour to their rejected and dishonoured Lord. It is a moving sight to see them identified with His dead body, Himself their object, their love to Him the bond that makes them one! And in them we see illustrated what true christian FELLOWSHIP in this world is. Look at those "two or three" as they tend the sacred body of the Lord, wrapping it in linen clothes with the spices and bearing it away to the sepulchre. The world lost to them, they are heedless of its praise or blame, they have one common object, they are absorbed with Him, they are acting according to the mind of heaven and with the approval of God.
It is well that we should ask the question as to how we stand in regard to this same matter. Any fellowship that we may profess is a mere show, if this that moved the hearts of these people is lacking. We may stand for external correctness and strive to have everything according to the terms of truth, and be intolerant of any who do not see as we see, but if there is not this faithfulness to Christ and this affection for Him that binds hearts together as one, it is of no account to God; it is the shell without the kernel, and a stumbling block to others.
Do we know the meaning of the words, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread"? Do we know what it means to "SHOW THE LORD'S DEATH TILL HE COME"? It means that we stand together in faithfulness and affection for the One whom the world rejected, and that by eating His Supper together, which brings Him to mind in His death for us, we declare to all who can take notice that we are identified with Him, that we stand by His cross, that it has become our boast and our glory. It is a solemn stand to take but a blessed one. It will not meet with the world's approval but it will have God's. It will cause us to walk in self-judgment and in separation from the world, but it will open up for us a sphere in which Christ is everything and in which we shall be more than satisfied with His love, for it is written, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him," but these things are revealed to us by His Spirit and they are our common portion to be enjoyed together as faith produces faithfulness and faithfulness draws us together in holy, happy fellowship,
A Biography in Prophecy: From the manger to the universal Throne — Isa. 53.
It was for our iniquities and transgressions that He suffered and died, that by His stripes we might be healed. And those stripes were not what men laid upon Him, but those that fell upon Him from the throne of eternal justice. What was it that carried Him to the cross, and enabled Him to endure until justice could demand no more from Him? It was love, invincible, eternal love, the love of Christ that passeth knowledge.
If any one enquires of me as to this greatest chapter in the Old Testament, as did the Ethiopian Chancellor of Philip the evangelist, "I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself or some other man," I can but answer as Philip did, "Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture and preached unto him JESUS." — Acts 8.
That name which is above every name is the sure key to this chapter, there is none other, and of Him who bears it, it is my determination and privilege to speak. Here we have set in true and divine order the sufferings of Christ and the glory that shall follow. The chapter gives us in vivid terms the great steps in the history of the Lord from the manger-cradle to the universal throne, from the first Advent to the manifested glories of the Second Advent. It is on this line that I ask you to consider it with me.
THE PROPHETIC WORD
"Who hath believed our report?"
The prophets had spoken, telling in appealing words of His coming, of His great love for His people and His determination to save them; but who cared for the prophets? Who believed their report? Not many. So few indeed, that an aged widow knew them all in Jerusalem, and could speak with them. Yet there they were, that godly expectant few who looked for redemption in Israel, for God did not permit the light of faith and hope to wholly die out; but the mass of the people were indifferent to any words that God had sent to them by His holy prophets.
HIS BIRTH IN BETHLEHEM
"And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed."
"The Arm of the Lord" is a divine title. In the 51st chapter of the prophecy the Arm of the Lord is called upon to awake for the deliverance of the people as in the ancient days. "Art thou not it," cried the prophet, "which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for thy ransomed to pass over?" The Arm of the Lord was manifested in such glorious power at the Red Sea, that even the sceptics in Israel's host must have been convinced. But now, where do we see the Arm of the Lord? Not in the thunder, the lightning, the earthquake or the fire, not in the mighty wind that divided the sea, but in a Babe in the manger at Bethlehem. A weak Babe, apparently entirely dependent upon His mother's breasts for sustenance! Could that lowly Babe be the Arm of the Lord? Yes, He was, but to whom was He revealed? for verily a revelation was necessary if He was to be known; a revelation which only faith could receive. And not many received it. A few did, such as the shepherds of Bethlehem, and the aged Simeon, and the widowed Anna, and Elizabeth the mother of John, and the virgin mother who treasured the revelation in her heart. Just these, and very few beside them, for the eyes of the heart had to be opened before men could see in that lowly Babe the Arm, the strength of the Lord.
THE HIDDEN YEARS
"For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground."
Here are described those thirty hidden years in which our Lord grew up before the eyes of Jehovah. Other eyes did not discern the freshness of that apparently insignificant and tender shoot, but no words can describe its beauty in the eyes of God. "Thou art My beloved Son in whom is all My delight," was the way in which the Father summed up all that those hidden years meant to Him.
And it was in a dry ground that He grew. He derived no nourishment from His surroundings. Israel had become debased and degraded, an apostatising and barren nation. They were like a sun-parched desert in which God could find no pleasure, and the godly no sustenance. Not from the schools of the Rabbis, nor from the teaching of the scribes did Jesus draw His supplies as "He grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him" (Luke 2:40). No, they contributed nothing to Him; all His springs were in God. He was cast upon God from the womb; He hoped in God when He was upon His mother's breasts; and in His law He meditated day and night as He grew up to the full stature of a man.
HOW HE APPEARED TO MEN
"He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him."
Thus He appeared to the eyes of men. He had attracted no notice during those hidden, quiet years. The absurd and blasphemous legends of the Romish church as to great deeds that He did as a boy have no foundation in fact. Men had no eyes to see or hearts to appreciate Him, who was altogether lovely in the eyes of heaven. If He had come with power and arrogance, crushing all opposition to His will beneath all-conquering feet, they might have admired and followed Him, but they could not understand His holy separation to God, His loveliness, His meekness and His lowliness. The grace of heaven was unattractive to their eyes; they had no use for Him who sought only the honour that comes from God and lived only to serve, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister.
HIS ENTRANCE ON PUBLIC SERVICE
"He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised and we esteemed Him not."
This was what He received when He stepped out of seclusion into public ministry. Many a man has been rejected by his fellows, yet respected, but this Man — who was none other than the Lord of glory, was despised as well as rejected. How scornfully the great men of the nation spoke of Him; with what disdain they said: "Is not this the carpenter?" "This fellow receiveth sinners!" "He hath a devil and is mad, why hear ye him." And even those who did not treat Him with the undisguised contempt of the Pharisees, hid their faces from Him and His appeals of love. In the last great test, when His visage was more marred than any man's they were afraid to speak out on behalf of Him whom their leaders despised. None, save perhaps one or two women, understood the meaning of His deep poverty; His sighs and tears moved the multitude only to derision and laughter.
THE SORROWS OF HIS LIFE
"Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted."
But it was not for Himself that He sighed and wept, but for them. He would have lifted every sorrow from their hearts, and been exceedingly joyful in doing it, but they would have none of it; they were blind to their blessing, and hugged their sins and rejected Him. It was for them He wept. In the midst of men, because of what men were — sin-loving, devil-deceived, God-hating — He was the Man of sorrows.
Yet their enmity did not change His love. How greatly He loved them! Right on to the end of His day of service He served them with unwearied mercy. He healed their sick; He touched their lepers with compassionate and powerful hand; He gave sight to their blind, and delivered multitudes from the blighting tyranny of demons. And let no one suppose that these were acts of power only as when He created the worlds. No, He felt their miseries and bondage; in His tender heart He carried their burdens; He was afflicted in the midst of them because they were afflicted; virtue went out of Him to heal them, and His spirit was weighed down by the loads that He lifted from them. It was in His spirit that He felt these things, for His sinless, holy body could not be seized upon or defiled by disease, even though His enemies said, "An evil disease cleaveth fast unto Him" (Psalm 41:8). But they thought that God was against Him when they saw His sorrow: that He was stricken and smitten of God. Why was He so poor if He was in God's favour? Why should He sigh and weep? If God were pleased with Him would He not be popular with Pharisees and priests? So they reasoned, and reasoning thus they appeased their consciences while they rejected Him.
"But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed."
Here we reach the cross, the great end for which He came into the world. The nation of Israel will yet take up these words; for the veil is to be removed from their hard and unbelieving hearts; at His feet and with broken and penitent spirits they will bow down in wonder. But we also, who are not of Israel, but are sinners of the Gentiles, we can find room enough for us in this great statement. We might well ask why He, the Prince of life, bowed His head in death? Certainly death had no claim upon Him, and could have had no power over Him, had He not submitted Himself to it. The enmity of His foes, fierce as it was, was not enough, no matter how fixed was their determination to do it, to account for His death. Then where shall we find the answer to our question? We find it here. It was for our iniquities and transgression that He suffered and died, that by His stripes we might be healed. And those stripes were not what men laid upon Him, but those that fell upon Him from the throne of eternal justice.
What was it that carried Him to the cross, and enabled Him to endure until justice could demand no more from Him? It was love, invincible, eternal love, the love of Christ that passeth knowledge, love to us who had no love for Him.
OUR CONDITION FOR WHOM HE DIED
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all."
What words are like God's words? Here in two brief sentences there is described our character and condemnation. Like sheep we have strayed and have, in our straying, shown the folly of our sin; "we have turned every one to his own way," and thereby have declared the wilfulness, the wickedness of our sin. What but the just condemnation of God could fall upon us, after we had so definitely and deliberately declared what we are? But God has undertaken for us, and whether it be the folly or the wilfulness of our sin — all our iniquity He laid upon our Surety. It is the saved remnant of Israel that is speaking in these wonderful words, but every believer may use them, for "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).
HIS CHARACTER WHO DIED FOR US
"He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth."
The Spirit of God would not engage us wholly with the great work that has been done for our salvation, but with Him who has done it, and here is described His character and the way He met all the sufferings that men and devils forced upon Him. There was no resentment in His heart and no resistance to evil. It was the will of God that He should suffer and in absolute subjection to God's will He went to the cross. "That the world may know that I love the Father, and as He hath given Me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence," are surely words that should fill us with wonder and worship, for they describe as no other could, this holy subjection, this complete obedience to the will of God. "And they took Jesus, and led Him away. And He bearing His cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull" (John 19:16, 17).
HIS APPARENT COMPLETE ECLIPSE
"He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare His generation? for He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was He stricken."
So complete and unanimous was His condemnation by His judges, that it seemed as though the desire of His foes would be realised when they said, "When shall He die, and His Name perish" (Ps. 41:5 ). It did not seem as though He would have a generation to declare, for He was cut off out of the land of the living. The whole earth groans beneath the ways of Adam's generation. Violence and corruption, pride and selfishness declare what his progeny is; the world is full of Adam and his disobedience; but this Man, the obedient One, shall those heavenly graces that shed their fragrance amid the moral putrefaction of Adam's world survive? Shall He have a generation that shall fill the earth with His beauty? It did not seem like it when He was led to the cross and when He was stricken for the transgression of the people. "It is expedient," said the godless high priest, "that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." He did not understand the meaning of his words, but when he succeeded in his design, it did appear as though the visit of our Lord to this world had been a disastrous failure and that He had spent His strength for naught and in vain.
"And men appointed His grave with the wicked [correct translation] but He was with the rich in His death, because He had done no violence, neither was there guile in His mouth."
It was the custom of the Romans to leave the bodies of crucified criminals upon their crosses until the carrion birds had cleaned the bones of every shred of flesh, but as a concession to the Jewish laws, which said: "If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God)" (Deut. 21:23), they permitted the bodies of Jewish criminals to be buried at night fall; and the custom was to dig a rough hole near the spot of the crucifixion and cast them in there. These soldiers, who had gambled for the clothes of the Lord, were keen to get back to their dice and their wine, and had prepared beforehand a grave big enough to hold the three corpses.
They made His grave with the wicked, for He was nothing more to them than these other poor wretches, and they had their brutal work to do, and the sooner it was done the better for all concerned.
But when the great work was finished, and the darkness was past and His beloved Son hung dead upon the cross, God stepped in and cried, Halt. No further were men permitted to go in dishonouring the One who had done His will with a perfect obedience. His enemies were thrust aside and from this point onwards He was honoured and revered by those who loved Him. "He was with the rich in His death." God had held His man in reserve, and now Joseph, the timorous and secret disciple, stood forth with the courage of a lion, and in the very teeth of a hostile world, and regardless of all consequences, took his stand by his crucified Lord and begged His body. It was an unheard of thing! Whoever before had set any value on the body of a crucified criminal? It was so strange that Pilate made special enquiries as to whether He was really dead, and then he granted Joseph's request. The sacred body was wrapt in pure linen with a hundred pounds of spice, and Joseph and Nicodemus with two or three women gave Him the burial of a King.
And here lies the meaning of the grave being introduced before the sufferings are fully told. The sort of grave He was to fill was not an after thought, either on man's part or God's; both were prepared and ready before He died.
HIS DEATH AS GOD'S JUDGMENT
"Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin."
Justice has often miscarried in this world's sad history, and men have suffered for crimes of which they were not guilty; but here was not a miscarriage of justice; though He had done no violence neither was there any deceit in His mouth, "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him," and there is no unrighteousness with the Lord. He is the just God. He is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works (Ps. 145:17). Oh, why did the just God bruise Him, who is "that just One"? (Acts 22:24). Why did God who is holy forsake Him "that is holy, Him that is true?" (Rev. 3:7). Why was the sinless One put to grief? There is only one answer, and it is that God chose to deal with Him as our Surety and Substitute. It gave God no pleasure in the way in which we understand pleasure, to do this, but it was the only way if He was to be a Saviour God, for just He must ever be. And this bruising was not the physical wounds that He endured, but the indescribable sufferings of His soul when He was made an offering for sin. Injustice there was from man's side, inveterate and unrestrained wickedness was in the judge's seat and absolute goodness at the bar; sin upon the throne, crowned with almost universal acclaim, and holiness on the cross, despised and execrated by Gentile and Jew. But God was over all and permitted men to go thus far that they might fully declare themselves in their hatred of Him and that He might show in absolute justice the exceeding riches of His grace to them.
HIS RESURRECTION AND PRESENT WORK
"He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hands."
Not until resurrection could He see His seed, for "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12). And it was after death and in resurrection that He said to Mary "Go unto My brethren, and say unto them . . . My Father and your Father, My God and your God." These were His seed, His generation, and the multitudes who "have believed on Him through their word" (John 17), are the answer to the lament of the prophet, "Who shall declare His generation, for He was cut off out of the land of the living?" "He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of One, for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb. 2:11). His life, His character, His graces are not lost, the earth is to be filled with them through His seed, and their great destiny is to be conformed to His image that He may be the Firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29). Israel also will be gathered and He will be able to say as He presents them to God, a redeemed nation and a wholly right seed, "Behold, I and the children that Thou hast given Me."
And He "dieth no more" He lives "after the power of an endless life." Having glorified God and saved His people by one offering He prolongs His days into eternity; God's answer to those who would have cut Him off for ever.
"And the pleasure of the Lord" prospers in His hand "for Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31). And to this day He is working from His throne in glory and winning men for God.
HIS COMING AGAIN
"He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied."
A great hope fills our hearts and His, and I believe that I am justified in bringing it in here, though the Old Testament does not speak specifically of it. We have read in the Word that "Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water by the word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27). When that hour of presentation of the church to Himself comes He will see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. He will say the prize is worth the price, for His church will yield everlasting joy to His once broken heart as she receives His boundless love into her heart and responds to it without reserve. How near the hour of His supreme joy may be we cannot tell, but this we know, He has said, "Surely, I come quickly"; and His church, the Bride of the Lamb replies, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
HIS GLORIOUS KINGDOM
"By His knowledge shall My righteous servant instruct many in righteousness, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He hath poured out His soul into death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
He will establish a kingdom according to God's own righteousness and everyone who enters it will be instructed by Him in ways of righteousness, and He Himself will be for ever the manifestation of the righteousness in which He instructs His subjects; for they will never forget that they could not have been in the place of blessing at all if He had not borne their iniquities. "And He shall be great . . . and of His kingdom there shall be no end," but He shall have companions with Him in that kingdom — the great and the strong — and who are these? Those surely who have taken character from Him and learnt His ways, and have delighted to follow in His footsteps; to suffer with Him and for Him in the day of His rejection that they might reign with Him in the day of His glory. "He that is greatest among you let him be as the younger; and he that is chief as he that doth serve . . . I am among you as He that serveth." Yes, that is the way of true greatness and for it strength is needed; and it is those who are conscious of their need of strength that are made strong, for He has said, "My strength is made perfect in weakness."
But among all the crowns that shine upon His sacred brow in that day of glory this will shine with the greatest splendour — He is the Lamb that was slain. This shall never be forgotten: He poured out His soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bare the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.
The Seven Words on the Cross: His Last Will and Testament
Let us stand by the cross and consider His words. We will not stand with the mocking multitude but with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John, the beloved disciple, and we will look into the face of the Saviour and hear Him speaking. We will remember that it was prophesied of Him that He should die to gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad. Consider those sufferings! Consider the Cross! Let us ask ourselves the meaning of it and hear this answer. "To gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad."
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." — John 5:24.
I invite you to a meditation upon the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ and the grace that was in Him as expressed in the words that He uttered when upon the Cross. When we meditate it is the heart that is engaged, and it is the heart only that can appreciate and understand the meaning of the cross.
The first word is recorded in Luke 23:34:
"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."
This prayer did not break from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ when He began His ministry amongst men and when they first of all wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth, and then, moved with anger when He applied the truth, led Him to the brow of the hill upon which the city was built, to cast Him down headlong. It was not then that He prayed this prayer, but after He had ministered among them for three and a half years; after He had told out His most wonderful love to them in unsurpassable words; after He had blessed their children and fed them when they were hungry, and healed the sick and cleansed the leper, opened the eyes of the blind and raised the dead; after He had gone about amongst them doing good "for God was with Him"; and when, in answer to all that heavenly grace that had been poured out without reserve amongst them, they cried, "Away with Him! Crucify Him!" When they had spat on His sacred face and seamed His back with the scourge and crowned His head with thorns and nailed Him to a gibbet and, not satisfied with that, had sat down to watch His sufferings, to gloat over His anguish and to mock Him, it was then, when the tide of man's hatred rolled upon Him, wave upon wave, that He spoke; then His voice was heard above the storm praying, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."
He might have prayed another prayer. When one of His disciples drew a sword in Gethsemane to protect his Master, as he thought, the Lord said, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels?" He did not pray that prayer; if He had it would have meant damnation, it would have meant the blackness of darkness for ever for them and for us. He did not pray that prayer; He waited until they had done their worst and then He prayed, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." It was the answer of invincible love to implacable hate. It was the answer of absolute goodness to incorrigible badness, and it was a prayer that was not only made but heard and answered, for in this He expressed His will. I would speak of some of these words at least as the last will and testament of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in this prayer He expresses His will to God — His will for mankind at large. For not only was the Jew there at that Cross, but the Gentile was there as well. Mankind was represented there. The thoughts of many hearts were revealed there and the heart of man in its enmity against God, in its determination to be rid of God was fully declared; and when it had declared itself so absolutely, so conclusively, the voice of Jesus answered in divine, heart-moving love, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."
When the Lord prayed that prayer He not only looked upon that seething mass of godless men that surged about Him, He looked down through the ages upon mankind to the very uttermost bounds of the earth and He prayed for mercy, for the salvation of men, and the gospel is going forth in the world to-day as the result of that prayer. And if we have believed it, and if we know God as our Father and Jesus as our Saviour and the Spirit of God as our abiding Comforter, we owe it to that prayer that Jesus prayed when men had done their worst to Him.
The next saying is in the same chapter, verse 43:
"Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise."
You will notice that His first word had men in general as its burden but the second word had one particular individual sinner as its object. From the multitude surging there the Lord turned to this poor wretch, agonising and dying at His side. The heart of the man had been awakened, his soul had been enlightened and he had turned his dying eyes upon this One Who hung by his side, and he saw in Him not only glory but grace. He saw glory, for he spoke of His coming kingdom and owned Him as Lord. This Person who hung by his side, put to shame, execrated, mocked and crucified was THE LORD; the dying malefactor recognised that, and he looked beyond the clouds that had gathered so darkly upon Calvary's hill, beyond it all to the Sun rising, to the time of His Kingdom. But if he had only seen the glory, how hopeless he would have been. He not only saw the glory, he saw the grace, and so he was emboldened to say, "Remember me." What a "me" he was! Poor drudge of the devil, hanging over hell fire, saturated from top to toe with sin, with nothing to commend him but his need. Yet he presented himself in all his foulness and his guilt and his need to the Lord. Presumption, was it? Nay, it was faith, and it honoured the Lord. Listen to the answer, "Verily I say unto thee, this day shalt thou be with Me in paradise." What an answer! An answer of grace to the cry of faith.
I don't know which to marvel at the most, the prayer that was uttered for the multitude or the concentration of grace upon this one poor wretch. What grace! And this is the grace with which the Lord meets every individual who cries to Him. This world is but a speck in the midst of the mighty universe, and there are two thousand millions of people upon it, yet if one sinner cries in faith to Jesus this is the sort of answer He will give. It seems to me that that poor sinner must have felt that he had the Saviour all to himself, and that is what the Saviour means every sinner to feel.
But, such a man, so foul, so guilty, having served the devil so long, having to be cast out of the world for his crimes, that man in Paradise! Paradise is a spotless place, holy, stainless! That man in Paradise! Well, of course, if the Lord said, "To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise," if He pledged His word to put that sinner there, He would see to making him fit. That goes without saying. Yes, a sinner may feel deeply his guilt, he may be conscious of the foulness of his soul, but if Jesus offers him salvation that sinner may rest with absolute assurance that the Saviour who offers salvation will deal with his sins. So that when Jesus passed into Paradise with this trophy of His grace in His arms, so spotless was he, so fit for that place, that not an angel in heaven could challenge his presence there. "The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth us from all sin."
The third saying is John 19:25-27
"Woman behold thy son." "Behold thy mother."
It is not now the multitudes of godless men, nor the poor sinner needing grace, but here we have the two people who above all people on earth loved the Saviour, His mother and the disciple whom Jesus loved. And as the Lord had expressed His will in regard to men and had expressed His will in regard to one sinner who believed on Him, now He expresses His will in regard to those that love Him. I have no doubt if we look at the passage dispensationally we can see in Mary, the mother of Jesus, the representative of the old dispensation, of that remnant of Israel that had looked for the glorious Messiah; and in John we may see the representative of the new dispensation, the Church. That remnant of the old dispensation that had looked earnestly for a glorious Messiah, were they to lose by His death on the Cross? No, they were to be merged into a better dispensation, they were to have their place in the Church, and so John took Mary, the mother of Jesus, to his own home and there she rested and there she dwelt. The chosen remnant of Israel that had faith passed into the Church to share her great and glorious destiny.
But there is something more than that in it, and something that should appeal to every one of our hearts. It is as though Jesus said, almost with His last words, to those two that loved Him so well, "You love Me, love one another. My will for you is that ye shall love one another. Your love to Me has brought you into relationship with one another." "Woman, behold thy son. Son, behold thy mother." And responsive to that last will and desire John took her to his own home and there she dwelt. They dwelt together in love. Christian friends, and beloved of the Lord, my heart is sad as I think of the feeble response we have made to this declaration of His will. He has said to you and to me, "If ye love Me, love one another. If ye are the disciples whom I love, don't forget to care for one another." John received Mary to his heart and to his home. He cared for her. Are we caring for one another with a love begotten in our hearts by the Lord's own love to us? Are we, as those who profess to know Him, caring for one another?
Let us stand by the Cross and consider His words. We will not stand with the mocking multitude, but with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John, the beloved disciple, and we will look into the face of our Saviour and hear Him speaking. We will remember that it was prophesied of Him that He should die to gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad. Consider those sufferings! Consider that Cross! Let us ask ourselves the meaning of it and hear this answer. "To gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad." Alas, alas! how lightly we think of division amongst the saints of God! We need the Cross in its appealing power in regard to this question that we may be found more in the spirit of John, who took Mary to his own home. But whatever we think or feel about it we have the Lord's last will and testament here, His expressed desire in regard to those that love Him.
Now we turn to Matthew 27:45, 46:
"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me."
This is the central saying of the seven and we can understand why it should be so. Every circle of mankind has been considered, the multitude of men, the individual sinner, those who are saved by the grace of God. Now the Lord is in the midst of that darkness. He is forsaken. Forsaken by His disciples He had been, and poor, frail, fickle men that they were we can not wonder; but now we learn that He is abandoned by God. "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Can we give an answer to that cry? The Lord Himself gives it in Ps. 22, "But Thou art holy." But, was not Jesus holy? Yes. When announcing His birth the angel had said to Mary, "That holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." And even the devils confessed Him in the synagogue saying, "We know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God." He was holy, harmless, undefiled; this was the testimony of the Holy Ghost to Him. As He hung upon that Cross He was just as holy as He was when He sat on the Throne and created angels. Just as holy in His perfect manhood as He was in His Godhead glory. Then if Jesus is holy, and if God is holy, what is the meaning of this cry? It is because we were unholy, because we were sinful, because we were far from God and unfit for His Presence. It is because of this that Jesus was forsaken, for there in that darkness He was made sin for us.
He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed. He was taking up questions that had to be taken up if we were to be blest. If we were to be received into everlasting favour He must suffer in the darkness. Only by His stripes, by His bruising could we be healed — and when we read in the Scriptures of His bruising we must not connect that with the blows that He received from the fists of brutal men or of the nails that pierced His hands and feet. He was bruised physically, but His soul was bruised also. His soul was made an offering for sin. He was there beneath the stroke of Divine justice that God's throne might stand in everlasting rectitude and that His grace might pour out in salvation to you and me. And no tongue of mortal can tell what those sufferings meant to Him, no heart can conceive them. He suffered there under the weight of God's judgment. God hid His face from Him, He sank beneath those waves of judgment, down, down into depths beneath which there is nothing; down into the ocean of divine wrath against sin that we might be "brought to God" that we might be made fit for the Father's presence.
Thus He suffered! Our Christianity will have no foundation if we pass over this. Any change brought about in our lives that leaves this out will be but a temporary, a superficial change. But if we understand this it will go right down into the very roots of our being and change us there. What a consideration, almost too sacred for human comment, is this cry that broke from the soul of the suffering Jesus amid the darkness of the cross. Throughout all Eternity we are going to bless Him for it. He is to be the theme of the ransomed saints throughout those countless ages. We shall never exhaust the theme, we shall never be able to tell out the greatness of it, but blessed be God for the grace that has anointed our eyes and given us to see in that Sufferer upon the Cross the very salvation of God. At that price He has won us; that was the cost. He gave all for us. Let us bow down at the feet of this great Saviour saying, Lord, I am Thine, I am Thine"
The next cry is in John 19:28-29:
I think sometimes we forget that the Lord suffered physically, probably as no other could suffer. He never used His Godhead power to alleviate His human suffering, and when He cried, "I thirst," we see the suffering Man, the suffering Man in His perfection expressing the fact that He suffered. Was there any relenting in His foes who heard that cry? That cry of distress? Was there any pity, any mercy in any of them? He tells us in the 69th Psalm, that they gave Him gall for His meat and in His thirst they gave Him vinegar to drink; and that that Scripture might be fulfilled, though they did not know they were fulfilling Scripture, the sponge was pressed to His mouth. There was no pity, no mercy for a suffering Saviour.
But may we not see something else in that cry? For what did the Saviour thirst? He thirsted for the love of our hearts — for your love and mine. May we refresh Him this day. May we give an answer to that cry. Has He been thirsty for our love? Are there rivals to Him in our affections — the world — self? Oh, let this cry from the Cross search our hearts. He died because He thirsted — because He wanted us. He died because nothing would satisfy His love but having us for Himself for ever. What shall the answer to this cry be?
The next cry is in chapter 19:30:
"It is finished."
Now we enter into the triumph. Though He still had to bow His head and the blood had to flow from His spear-ripped side, as Lord He could speak of it all as done. So we have His triumphant cry, "It is finished." We bow at His feet, who left nothing for us to do who could do nothing. He undertook Himself to accomplish the mighty work and has done it in absolute perfection so that Almighty God can find no flaw in it.
It is finished! Yes, indeed.
Finished every jot.
Sinner, this is all you need —
Tell me, is it not?
"It is finished." Triumphant cry! Glorious Saviour! Oh, wonderful Jesus! It is finished! The power of hell vanquished, the work of redemption accomplished, God glorified, salvation open for sinners, blessing for you and for me. It is finished!
The last cry is in Luke 23:46:
"Father into Thy hands I commend My spirit."
It is very beautiful that that final cry should be recorded in Luke's Gospel. It is only there, and it is only in Luke's Gospel that we have those first words recorded as having come from the Lord's lips. In Luke's Gospel as a boy of twelve we read He said, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" And that Father's business is unfolded for us in Luke's Gospel. It was a business of grace, pardoning sinners and giving peace and rest to the weary and heavy laden. A wonderful Gospel unfolding the Father's business. And now the Father's business is finished and the One who had accomplished it so blessedly could say, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit." Oh, what must have been the feelings of the Father then? What must have been the joy of heaven then? The suffering over now, the work accomplished and the blessed Workman passing into absolute rest and peace, into the Father's presence.
We can rejoice that Calvary closed as far as His words are concerned like that. It is true the soldier had to pierce His side and the blood flow forth from that pierced side; but oh, what joy! Does it not move our souls, to consider Him with His last words commending Himself to the Father? Thank God, we know that He is raised from the dead. We know that the Father Who was so glorified by His suffering on the Cross, raised Him and has seated Him on His right hand in heaven, and this we can realise and exult in now. If He died that His last will and testament might come into effect, He has been raised up from the dead to administer it. His will would have been of no effect if He had not died. It was necessary that the testator should die. But He has been raised up again from the dead that His will might be administered, not only in the letter of it but according to its spirit, and that is what He is doing now in the glory and that is what He is going to do when that day of glory dawns for this world and He is owned as universal King, and that is what He will do for ever and for ever. He is the blessed Administrator of the will of God.
The Lord's Farewell Words: Our dangers; His provision
It was not the rabble, untaught and knowing not the law that planned the greatest crime that night or day has ever looked upon. It was the chief priests and respected leaders of the people, religious men, men of education, who boasted of their culture and elevation above the common herd. They brought it about, but they could not have done it alone; one of the Lord's own disciples was necessary, and he was ready for the foul deed when Satan entered unto him. You could not find men in better circumstances than these were. The chief priests had the law, and Judas had the Gospel, but neither law nor Gospel changed them or him. But such is the heart of man and such is the world, and as we consider it we do not wonder that the Lord said to Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again."
I want you to consider with me these final words of our Lord to His disciples before He went forth to His agony in the Garden and His death upon the cross, as Luke inspired by the Holy Ghost has given them to us. They set before us the position of the disciples of the Lord as His witnesses in the world during His absence from it, and His tender solicitude for them: upon this I lay the emphasis. They show us His intimate knowledge of our fickleness and frailty, and of the dangers and vicissitudes that beset us, but also His unwearied and unwearying love, and His ability to make us more than conquerors until He comes again.
Nothing could be more moving, surely, than this chapter (Luke 22) nothing more calculated to fill us with wonder than what is there recorded and it will give us the setting, the surroundings, without which, as always in the case of the words of the Lord Jesus, the infinite and divine beauty of the words and acts are partly lost.
The chief priest and the scribes sought to kill Him, so verse 2 tells us. That was because they hated Him with a bitter and incorrigible hatred, and that in spite of the fact that it was the Feast of unleavened bread, which spoke symbolically of all malice and hatred and evil being put out of the heart; but what cared they for that? To rid the world of Him whose very presence in it was a continual rebuke to their sin and hypocrisy and pride was their purpose, but how to do it was their problem. They were cowards, every one of them, base cowards, and they feared the people whom they despised. They had no need to have feared them, for those people could be swayed either this way or that like saplings in a gale; they, too, were as foolish as they were sinful, and had no love for the Lord. All they cared about were the loaves and fishes with which He had fed them. They would defend Him if He fed them well, if not — "Let Him be crucified." But the perplexity of these rulers disappeared when there slunk into their council one of the Lord's own disciples. Here was the solution of their difficulty, here was the devil-possessed implement of their plot.
Judas had slipped away from the Lord's company under some pretence or other that must have deceived his fellow-disciples, but not the Lord. Do you not see him hastening furtively through the streets, hastening as only a guilty man bent upon a foul crime could hasten, to the place where he knew these enemies of the Lord were? There was no time to waste in haggling or bargaining, the deed must be done, and done speedily; thirty pieces of silver was "the goodly price" that they offered him, and for that price he sold his Lord and agreed to bring about His capture while the people slept. Then this devil's dupe — oh, the horror of it! — returned to resume his place among the disciples, as though none were more devoted than he, and the chief priests proceeded to plan the execution of their murderous design, and then went to their prayers and to their preparations to eat the Passover. Such is the world, such was the world on the night of the Lord's betrayal, and He knew it, He knew it thoroughly and completely.
It was not the rabble, untaught and knowing not the law, that planned this greatest crime that night or day has ever looked upon, it was the chief priests and the respected leaders of the people, religious men, men of education, who boasted in their culture and elevation above the common herd. They brought it about, but they could not have done it alone; one of the Lord's own disciples, His own "familiar friend," was necessary, and he was ready for the foul deed when the devil entered into him. You could not find men in better circumstances than these were in. The chief priests had the law, and Judas had the gospel, and all the grace of it in the Master whom he had followed for more than three years, but neither law nor gospel changed them or him, though both increased their responsibility and added to their guilt. But such is the heart of man, and such is the world, and seeing it we do not marvel as Nicodemus did when the Lord said to him, "Ye must be born again."
Now the Lord knew all this. If Elisha the prophet was enlightened by the Lord as to the journey that Gehazi took in order to gratify his covetous heart, the Lord of Elisha — for Jesus was that — knew all that had passed between the traitor and His foes. He knew too, all that would follow this plotting; He knew that man's hour and the power of darkness had come, and knowing all, what did He do? Let us see.
Exercising His authority as Messiah for the last time, He sent Peter and John to demand a guest chamber, in which He could eat the Passover Feast with His disciples, and pour out His heart in a last farewell before He suffered; and at that supper He clearly showed them what their position in the world would be during His absence, and what the resources they would have. The storm was gathering outside, preparations for His arrest and condemnation and crucifixion were being rapidly completed, and Judas, who knew all about it, sat there at the table with Him, the price of his treachery in his bag. And Jesus knew all this. Never before had the powers of darkness been so stirred; this was their supreme hour, men were but the puppets on the stage, guilty puppets, playing their part with willing hearts; but behind them were the forces of evil determined to crush that one lowly Man, and to finish at one blow and for ever their long fight with God, and Jesus knew this. But His disciples, and we, were His one thought. Behold Him as He looks round upon them and says, "With desire have I desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer."
They loved Him, but He loved them more; and it was His desire, not theirs, that had brought them together for that sacred occasion. The Passover Feast commemorated the deliverance of Israel from Egypt; the lamb roast with fire upon which they fed year by year turned the eye of faith forward to His coming, who was the true paschal Lamb. And now He had come, and there He sat to share with them that meal which spoke so eloquently of what He would do ere once more the sun sank down over the western sea.
It was at the Passover Feast that He instituted the Supper which we know and love as THE LORD'S SUPPER (1 Cor. 2); and this He did entirely in view of His absence from them. It is this which we must specially consider because it is definitely for us, which the passover was not. One of the chief features of this period in which we are called to witness for Him is, that He is absent from this world; His disciples were to witness for and serve an absent Lord, and so have we.
AN ABSENT LORD AND A SUPPER OF REMEMBRANCE
He was to be no more with them and they would miss His blessed company; and the measure in which they would miss Him would show the measure of their love to Him. And so it is now; the Lord is not here, He has no place in this world, its politics, social circles, pleasures and schemes of reconstruction give Him no place. Are we conscious of His absence, and of this? If we love Him, we shall miss Him and shall long for the time when He shall come to take us to His Father's house, that where He is we may be also; nor shall we long with less desire for the day when He shall be glorified in this world that despised and rejected Him. Christ is not here. What other than this is the meaning of those words we prize so highly, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them?" If He were here, why gather in His Name? But why is He not here? There are two reasons the world hated Him and slew Him; and He loved us and died for us. These are the two sides of the Lord's exit from this world by death, as they are given to us in this Gospel by Luke.
The world is so seductive and can put on so fair an exterior, that we soon forget that the cross of Christ is the witness of its awful hatred of Him, and that whoso will be a friend of the world is an enemy of God. It is well that we should learn that when all things are normal and right with us the cross of Christ is our only glory, and that by it the world is crucified to us, and we to it.
The Lord's Supper brings before us the fact that He is not here — we show the death of our Lord until He returns and one reason why He is not here is, the world cast Him out. This that was written had to be accomplished in Him: "And He was reckoned among the transgressors." His name was blotted out from David's royal line, and inscribed on the criminal roll of Jerusalem. Yes, if the criminal roll of that proud city for that eventful year could be discovered, the name of Jesus of Nazareth would be found along with the names of thieves and murderers. And we show the Lord's death until He comes again. As we eat His Supper, we announce the fact that we are identified with Him whom the world slew, we are identified with Him because we love Him.
But He died for us. He made us His own for ever by a love that gave Himself for us. How easily we forget this. If He stood in our midst and showed us His wounded hands and feet and side, as He did to His disciples on the resurrection day, His love would without doubt be a great reality to us; but "out of sight" is so liable to be "out of mind," so fickle are we; knowing this, He instituted His Supper, which should be a constant and perpetual reminder to us of a love which was stronger than death.
As we sit at His Supper, we follow Him in thought through the gates of David's city, that city which He loved so well and for which he wept, to Calvary. We see Him there for us, no light shining on Him from above, no friend ministering comfort from below. We hear His broken cries, but heaven is dumb, and men only mock, and at last He dies. The Prince of Life hung dead upon a cross for us; His body was there given for us and His blood shed for us. It is this that the broken bread and the poured-out wine speak of — Christ dead for us. And we need this Supper to keep Him in this great love ever fresh before our soul. If He were here we should not need it, because He is absent we do.
How necessary it is that we should have this eucharistic feast; this Supper of love, which expresses so blessedly to us what our Lord is, and our fellowship together — the fellowship of the Lord's death; the true fellowship of the many members of one body! What a joy to recall Him whose love many waters could not quench! With the storm gathering thickly about Him His thoughts spanned the whole time of His absence, and He then and there gave us this supper of remembrance until He comes again. "And He took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is My body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of Me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you." And as we respond to His request we say, "Lord, we do not forget."
A LIFE OF WITNESS AND A PERFECT PATTERN
Those disciples were to witness for Him, and we are to witness for Him during His absence; we are to be His letter of commendation before the world and to shine as lights in it. But how unlike Him we are by nature, just like those disciples indeed, who, even at that Supper table, were striving as to who should be the greatest among them. They needed, and we need, to have a perfect pattern if we are to understand what our witnessing must be.
He set Himself before them; they were not to be like the Gentiles, but like Him; they were not to exercise lordship over one another, but to follow His example and serve one another in love. It is in the world that men endeavour to be great, and jostle one another in their scramble for the chiefest places; but these disciples, and we like them, are not of the world, then the spirit of the world had not to show itself in them, nor must it in us. They belonged to Christ and so do we, and consequently it is His spirit that we have to bear and to show.
Let us incline our ears to hear His words. He said to them, "I am among you as he that serveth." Are there any more affecting words in Scripture than these? Consider what they mean! When they awoke in the morning He had often been awake before them and prepared their breakfast; they never needed a servant if He was near; His love made Him watch for opportunities to labour on their behalf, and if there was one task more menial than another that was the task He undertook. He, the Lord of glory, was the servant of those rude, unlettered fishermen; His love bound Him with unbreakable fetters to a life of service. He is our pattern, and our witnessing for Him must be after that pattern. He who loves most, serves most, and he who would be most like his Lord must take the lowest place amongst his brethren that he may serve them all.
THERE IS A TIRELESS FOE, BUT AN ALL-PREVAILING INTERCESSOR
Now if we are to witness for Christ, there will be opposed to us a sleepless and subtle foe; and the greater our determination to witness faithfully for Him, the more we shall be challenged and attacked. "Simon, Simon," said the Lord, "behold, Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you (all the disciples) as wheat."
What could Simon do in the presence of Satan? Poor, impetuous, self-confident Simon! And what can we do who are as foolish and weak as he? Satan's effort was and is, to separate the souls of those whom Jesus loves from Him and to destroy them; and if he cannot destroy them, he will endeavour to destroy their testimony. What easy prey he would have if it were not for the blessed fact that we have an Intercessor, whose ceaseless and blessed activities on our behalf are all-prevailing. He has died to make us His own; He ever liveth to maintain our faith in witness for Himself during His absence.
How cheering are the words, "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." The Lord had anticipated that fierce trial through which Simon was to pass; Satan is always too late for the Lord's vigilance, the prayer arose before the temptation came, and so it always does. He was ahead of Satan; Satan might catch Simon sleeping, and take you and me unawares, but he could not forestall the Lord. He had gauged the power of the foe and the weakness of His well-meaning disciple; and He had spoken to God His Father, about it all, and secured for Simon all the grace that was needed even if Simon failed. Simon did fail; he was allowed to do so, for he had lessons to learn; but his faith did not fail, and he came out of the distress and the dishonour a thoroughly converted man, distrustful of self, to strengthen his brethren, and to storm the devil's stronghold at Jerusalem, and take captive for Christ thousands who had hitherto been Satan's lawful captives.
The intercession of our Lord is not less effectual for us; He is even at the right hand of God for this purpose. There, amid the glory of the throne, He pleads for us so that we may be more than conquerors through Him that loves us (Rom. 8:34, 39).
A LIFE OF LABOUR WITH A BLESSED RECOMPENSE
But these disciples of the Lord had to learn also of what sort their lives would be as witnesses for Christ in the midst of a world that hated Him. Hitherto it had been an easy matter to serve Him, for He had exercised His authority as Messiah on their behalf, and they had gone forth without purse or scrip, or shoes, or staves, and had lacked nothing. Wherever they went their needs were abundantly met; but now all was changed; He was to be rejected; to be cast out as a malefactor, and they were henceforward to be identified with that Name which was dishonoured by man though honoured of God in heaven. Theirs was to be a life of toil and conflict. They had to sell their garments and buy swords. The garment spoke of ease and comfort, and the sword of hardship and conflict. They had to exchange the one for the other.
It has been thought that the Lord spoke here of an actual sword; indeed so thought these disciples, for they said, "Lord, behold, here are two swords." And He said unto them, "It is enough." If He had meant an actual sword, He would not have said, "It is enough." He would have said, "You will need one each." The fact is, they did not understand then the spiritual significance of His words. But Paul understood them afterwards when he described the Christian life, not in the language of the drawing room, or couch of ease, but in the language of the battlefield. Mark well how he speaks of "the good fight," of "enduring hardness as a good soldier," of "wrestling not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." We are told by him to "watch and be sober," to "put on the whole armour of God"; to withstand and to stand.
How we shrink from this hardship and the sacrifice that witnessing for Christ involves! We labour to save our own lives, for we so little appreciate the love of Christ that made Him die for us; and it is only as that love of His constrains us, that we shall do any other; but when that love takes possession, full possession, we sell the garment and buy the sword, and go forth to witness for our Lord regardless of the consequences to ourselves. In this there is compensation; the compensation of the Lord's approval in this present time, and in the future there is glory with Him, for if we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him (2 Tim. 2). "I appoint unto you a kingdom," said the Lord to these men, who afterwards sealed their testimony for Him with their blood, these true martyrs of our Lord. May we be like them through His grace.
Let us in our meditation put ourselves in thought among that company of men in that upper room, and listen to those wonderful sayings of our Lord, spoken with such quietness, such tenderness, until their full meaning fills our souls. Then let us follow Him as the Holy Spirit here shows Him to us, going forth to the Garden, then to the Cross, and down into the grave, then rising in the triumph of His victory over death, and ascending at last to His Father's throne; then like those disciples who saw Him go up, we shall worship Him, and be filled with great joy, and be continually praising and blessing God. Amen.
Jesus Showing Himself: and on this wise showed He Himself
If you are a backslider, and have become cold of heart; if divine things have lost their lustre and reality to you; if a distance has come in between your Lord and you. What do you need? You need to come afresh into the realisation of what Jesus suffered for you. You need to stretch forth your hand afresh and come into contact with His wounded hands and side. Say, The Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me. It will bring you where it brought Thomas, prostrate on his face at the Master's feet. It will make you cry as he cried, "My Lord and my God."
"He showed unto them His hands and His side. Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. . . . Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God. . . . After these things Jesus showed Himself again to His disciples. . . . This is now the third time that Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was risen from the dead." — John 20, 21.
John's Gospel gives to us the resurrection and the results of the resurrection on the very highest possible plane. In each Gospel we see that side of resurrection truth that is in keeping with the character of the Gospel, but John sets the disciples, and us, for they represented the whole Christian company, in an association with Christ, as risen, that the other writers do not give us. He shows us the way in which Jesus showed Himself to His disciples. It is HIMSELF and the incomparable grace that is in Him that John unfolds.
THE FIRST SHOWING
In the first appearing, we have the Lord Himself in what I might call the most intimate circle — His own circle — the saints gathered together. His disciples ought to have remembered His word, that on the third day He would rise again from the dead, and they ought to have been assembled outside the sepulchre to greet Him with songs of triumph, as the Victor from the dead. But their faith had all but failed, and their hopes they thought had been blasted, and they were filled with despair. They were not there to welcome Him from the dead. The Lord had to spend a very busy day seeking them out and restoring their faith and souls in order to gather them together to meet Him at the end of the day. There was Mary. He had, first of all, to drive the sorrow from her loving, broken heart, to show her that there was no cause for tears, but every cause for laughter and triumph. There was poor, burdened, conscience-stricken Peter. The Lord thought of back-sliding Peter; He knew the shame and sorrow that filled him, and graciously He sought him, for He loved him, and He did not want him to be an absentee at the evening's meeting. There were those two who, disconsolate and discouraged, were returning to their home in Emmaus. The Lord took that long journey with them to bring them back to Jerusalem. What a busy day He spent in His loving service! Think of those nail-pierced feet following those wandering disciples until He reached them, and then think of Him speaking to them with such tenderness and patience, coming down to their ignorance and unbelief to remove it all and to make their heavy hearts burn. The Lord laboured that day for His own; they were His great thought, and His labour was not in vain, they were ready in the evening, and in the evening when they were ready, He was there with them. Think of Him showing Himself like that to His disciples: and in showing Himself to them He is showing Himself to us, that we may know what kind of a Saviour and Lord we have. Do not we dishonour and grieve Him many times by doubting Him? And having doubted Him we often continue to grieve Him by thinking that our failure is too great for His grace.
They were gathered together in the evening of the day. He had made Mary His messenger. To her He revealed what up to that point had not been revealed to anyone else. He found her without the sepulchre weeping, distressed and desolated at His absence, and to that affectionate heart He imparted the most wonderful message that mortal lips ever carried: "Go unto My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God."
We do not get this in the other Gospels. It is the great revelation that John gives. The Lord had said before His death: "I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" There were great things in His heart, but He could not speak of these things until after His death. But now that death had taken place and resurrection was a fact, He keeps nothing back, He makes haste to tell all that is in His heart. "Except a corn of wheat fall to the ground and die, it abideth alone," He had said. If He had not died, He would have been alone for ever, alone as the Object of the Father's love, alone in His Father's bosom. He would have had no companion to share that eternal favour and love with Him. But in resurrection He has brought forth many grains — much fruit. The disciples were the beginning. We have come into it. He addresses us and says, "My brethren." That does not mean that He has come down to our level. But that He has brought us up to His. Let no one of us call Him "elder Brother." The only one who is spoken of as "elder brother" in Scripture is the disgruntled and graceless son of Luke 15. We bow down before Him and say, "My Lord and my God," and yet, matchless grace! He is not ashamed to call us "brethren." That is because He has lifted us up to His level and given us His own life and nature. The youngest babe in the family of God has the same life and nature as Christ, the risen Christ; He has imparted this to all His brethren. The flesh is still within them. But they have that which neither sin nor death can touch. They have that which is eternal, for eternal life is theirs; it is the life of the risen Christ. This never could have been if He had not borne all the judgment that their old sinful life deserved. It passed under God's unsparing judgment when Jesus died that they might be united to Him in this new life. He looks upon us all with infinite tenderness, with infinite love, and He says, "My brethren." That means that His Father is our Father, that His God is our God, as He said, "I ascend to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God."
This is different from that which we get in Matthew's Gospel, "Our Father which art in heaven." There "our Father" had to do with our needs in this world. He is caring for us in our earthly circumstances, numbering the very hairs of our head. But this is something else. It is not the Father's care that is in question, we must never have a doubt about that, but here no question of need arises, but we are brought into the very relationship with God in which His Son stands, to find our full satisfaction there. The love of the Father is upon us, and not only upon us, but He would have it to be in us, that it might be the deep and continuous experience of our hearts. This wonderful message gathered the disciples together, and there they were in that upper room; the doors shut for fear of the Jews. Despised people, they were — "the things that are not." But to them Jesus comes, He Himself stands in their midst. And being there He gives to that company His own dignity. The glory had left the Temple, that magnificent structure was of no account in Heaven's eyes; instead the glory was there in the midst of those Galilean fishermen, they were the companions of the Son of God, and though the world did not see it, those simple fishermen gathered there in the presence of the Lord were greater in the eyes of Heaven than the angels. They were His companions, His brethren. It is upon this plane that the assembly of God stands. When we come together in the full truth of what the Lord has called "My church," we do not come as saved sinners exactly, we are that most surely from one point of view, but we come as the brethren of Christ.
What matchless grace, what incomparable love is here, Christ in the midst of His brethren! His love cannot endure any distance; He wants His loved ones near to Him. The story of Joseph and his brethren illustrates it. Often it has moved our hearts. He said to his brethren, "Come near unto me." So the Lord stretches out His hands to us as His brethren, and He says, "Come near unto Me." And when they came near, Joseph kissed all his brethren and wept over them. He had no favourites. He treated them all alike. He kissed all his brethren. Then they talked with him. Thus the Lord puts anew the kiss of His love upon us, and makes us thoroughly at home with Him, and we are able to talk with Him. Blessed and wonderful privilege!
He said, "Peace be unto you." It was His first word to them. God is not the Author of confusion. He is the Author of peace. Where the presence of Christ is realized, and His supremacy in the midst of His saints is acknowledged, there will be peace. He came into the world and the world would not have Him, and Israel rejected His rightful claims as King. He was cast out of Jerusalem, which was His own city. His rights were utterly denied, but in resurrection life He could come into the midst of His brethren. There He could be supreme — there His rights were acknowledged.
"Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord," we read. It does not say, "When they saw Jesus." Of course, the Lord is Jesus, and Jesus is the Lord, but they were glad when they saw the Lord. They recognized His supremacy, and yielded a complete allegiance to Him. And this is a matter that should give every one who desires to be faithful to Him much thought and concern. Are we owning His Lordship, not in our individual lives only, but when we gather together as His brethren, as those early disciples did. One mind alone should guide and govern there, and that mind the mind of the Lord. Every heart should be subject to Him then, and there can be no practical unity in the truth in His church apart from that, no fellowship according to God. There will be unity in heaven, but why? J. N. Darby's beautiful hymn explains it:
"Every knee to Jesus bending,
All the mind in heaven is one"
But how did these disciples know that it was the Lord who stood in the midst? He showed Himself to them. He showed them His hands and His side. He revealed Himself to them in His love, that had suffered for them, He showed them the marks of His suffering in His body. What is it that gives Him the right to be supreme in the midst of His saints? Those pierced hands and the wounded side! He has the right, of course, to be supreme everywhere, for He is the eternal God, but it is those wounded hands and that pierced side that give Him supremacy in His church beyond all question. He is supreme in His love. Did He not say to His disciples, the one who serves most is the one who loves most and he is the greatest? He has served us even unto death, and His suffering and self-sacrificing love give Him the supreme place. On the resurrection day, Peter was not looking to John, or John to Peter. Every eye was looking at the Lord, and the disciples were glad, when they saw the Lord. None of them would want to be greater than the other that day. He alone would be great in their eyes.
THE SECOND SHOWING
Thomas was not with the disciples on the first Lord's Day, but when they came together again he came with them, but it was with a cold and unbelieving heart. How will the Lord bring that stubborn, faithless disciple, who would believe nothing that he could not feel or see, into a right frame of mind? He brings him into contact with His wounded body: "Come hither, Thomas," He says; "reach hither thy hand. Behold the wounds in My hands. Thrust thy hand into My side, and be not faithless but believing." It was as though He said, "Those wounds were for you. Come near to them, Thomas, see what My love has done for you. Do not doubt Me. Do not stand coldly by with heart of stone. I want you near to Me to know what I have suffered for you. Be not faithless but believing." This has something to say, surely, to each individual heart. Are you a backslider? If you have become cold, if Divine things have lost their lustre and reality to you, if a distance has come in between you and the Lord, what do you need? You need to come afresh into the realization of what Jesus suffered for you. You need to reach forth your hand afresh and come into contact with His wounded hands and His side. Say, "The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me," and it will bring you where it brought Thomas, prostrate on his face at his Master's feet. It will make you cry as he cried, "My Lord and my God!"
THE THIRD SHOWING
We come now to the third time that He showed Himself, and "on this wise showed He Himself to them." The Spirit of God very specially emphasizes this. The disciples went out fishing without any direction from Him, and they toiled all through those long, weary hours and caught nothing, and when morning began to dawn Jesus Himself stood upon the shore, and He spoke to them. His gracious voice sounded in their ears. He said, "Children, have you any meat?" "Children!" What does that mean? Affection and reproof were in it. It meant that He cared for them and they had forgotten it. Children are dependent upon someone else. Children do not provide their own breakfast, it is there for them when they awake. "Children," He said, "have you any meat?" They said, "No." He said, "Cast the net on the right side of the ship," and the disciple whom Jesus loved said, "it is the Lord." They come ashore, awed and abashed. And to their astonishment they find a fire there, a fire lighted by His own hands, and bread and fishes laid thereon, all ready for them. This is how He showed Himself to them. He knew they were cold, so He lighted a fire. He knew they were hungry, so He prepared them a breakfast He knew they were timid, so He, invited them to come and dine. It was as though He said to them, "Why do you doubt Me? I am just what I used to be." Many and many a time He had prepared their breakfast before His death. He arose a great while before day to meet their needs, and when they arose, their breakfast was ready for them, for He was among them as their Servant (Luke 22). It was as though He said, "My heart is just the same. I have just the same care for you as ever I had. Death and resurrection have not changed Me." And He showed Himself thus that we might see and know Him. He is the same to us as He was to them, He knows the needs of every one whom He loves; He knows your needs, burdened and troubled believer. Do not doubt Him? He is acquainted with every trial, and He shows Himself on this wise to you. He is equal to every difficulty. He is alive to every need. Arising up a great while before day, He is ready to meet your need when it arises. He is up before you, and if you got up hours before you usually do, He would be there! And if your needs began with your waking moment, and were ten thousand times greater than they are, there would still be the grace to meet them. Your need will never exhaust the resources of the Lord.
How blessed it is to see the risen Lord, the Conqueror of death, showing Himself on this wise to His disciples, so that they might henceforth trust Him! That they might say to one another: "These are great difficulties in which we are, but we must not doubt Him. Do you remember how He lighted the fire, prepared the bread and the fish, so that we might be warmed and fed, when after that night of fruitless toil we feared that we should have no food? Do you remember the tender way in which He invited us to sit down, and then served us, our risen Lord? Served us with the pierced hands, gave us the bread and fish, and was our Servant in resurrection just as He was before He died?"
Oh, the Lord grant that, as He shows Himself to us, our hearts may be awakened; that we may be alert; that our eyes may see; that our hearts may adore Him; that we may never doubt Him, but that He may be everything to us! The Lord grant it for His Name's sake.
Standing by the Cross: The way of "the disciple whom Jesus loved"
The cross is to us the supreme manifestation of the love of Christ, that passeth knowledge; it is the revelation of the heart of God to the world. It was there that our sins were atoned for; there the cup of our judgment was drained to its last drop by our suffering Saviour; there the hatred of men was fully exposed, but there the love of God shone out above it all in all its splendour. We must stand by the cross and let its meaning move our souls; as we do so we shall be consciously the disciples whom Jesus loves and shall respond to His love in faithfulness and praise.
"Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of the disciples whom Jesus loved." — John 13:23.
"When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by whom He loved." — John 19:26.
"Peter turning about seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following." — John 21:20.
The sincerity of discipleship is tested when the Lord and Master is rejected. When He was on earth many were ready to follow Him when they saw His miracles, or did eat of the loaves He fed them with. They had never had such a satisfying meal as that which they ate by the Sea of Galilee. He was popular then, and these fair-weather disciples loved good food and popularity; but when His words indicated that the way He would lead His followers was not such as they thought it would be, they turned from Him and walked no more with Him, until at last, in chapter 13, they are reduced to twelve men, and of those twelve one was a traitor. But this crisis revealed the basis of true discipleship and what it is that can keep the disciple true to the Lord until His return. Mark how the Spirit shows the Lord to us here. "When Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of the world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world He loved them unto the end." His time for departure had come, and He knew all the shame and unspeakable sorrow that would come upon Him with that departure, and it was all to be borne for the sake of His disciples, and for our sakes, but He loved them not one whit less because of that. Nothing could alter His love for them, it was greater than the waters of judgment and death — He loved them unto the end. Bind together these two things — His departure out of the world by the way of Gethsemane, Gabbatha and Golgotha, and His unchanging love for His own through it all, for in the true knowledge of these things lies the secret of true discipleship. It is not the sacrifices that we make for Him that make us "disciples indeed," but the knowledge of the sacrifice that He has made for us; it is not our love to Him, but His love to us that constrains us to follow Him.
But the Lord knew more than the fact that the time of His departure had come. He knew that "the Father had given all things into His hand." How great is His glory as thus revealed! Reach up to the highest height of the purpose of God and down to the deepest depth of His judgments, and embrace if you can the vast range of His will — all has been put into the hands of Jesus. He will command angels, He will bless men, He will judge devils; He will subdue every hostile force to the will of God and fill the universe with His glory. Such is the confidence, the absolute trust, that the Father has in Him, that all things have been put into His care; nothing has been withheld from Him. That is the measure of His glory. Knowing this, and also "that He came from God and went to God," and could go back to God as having accomplished all His will, what does He do? He lays aside His garments and girds Himself with a towel and stoops down before His disciples to wash their feet!! The most glorious Person in the universe renders a slave's service to His disciple!! Let that indescribable grace, let the love that was in that great act affect us rightly as we ponder over it!
There was more in that act than appears on the surface, but in searching for its inner meaning, don't let us miss the beauty that lies on the surface of it. The Lord will yet fill the universe with the glory of God, so great is He, but will He ever be greater than when girded with a towel He gave to His disciples an example that they should walk in His steps? No, it was when He stooped that the glory of His Person appeared transcendent over all, when He became the servant of all He was greatest of all. But what was it that brought Him into this place of service? It was His love. But what was its object? Why did He serve them thus? That they might have part with Him. He desired that they should be brought into and maintained in the most blessed intimacy with Himself. He loved His disciples so tenderly, so ardently, that He could not endure any distance or indifference. He must have us near to Himself, enjoying the holy intimacy that love affords. Have we considered that? One of those disciples realized this, the sort of love wherewith Jesus loved him dawned upon his soul, and realizing it, all reserve was cast out of his heart, and HE LEANED UPON JESUS' BOSOM. It was an immediate response to the love that had expressed itself so blessedly, and it must have given a great joy to the sorrowing and troubled heart of the Lord. Leaning upon His bosom, he could speak of himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." The love of Jesus became the dominating factor in his life, and all true discipleship begins, continues, and ends there; it finds its spring and its power in the love of Christ. Here, in John's attitude, we see the renunciation of all self-confidence. Peter was self-confident. It was as though he said, "Lord, you may trust me, I will not fail You; all others may, but not I; rest in my love, lean on my bosom." We know the end of that. John's conduct stands out in contrast to Peter's sincere but vain boasting. It was as though he said, "Lord, I cannot trust my love to You, but I can trust Your love to me; the place of my confidence and rest is Your love, Your bosom."
The next time we see "the disciple whom Jesus loved" he is "STANDING BY" (John 19:26.) He was not hiding away in shame and fear as Peter was, nor setting himself to some busy service of his own devising, but "standing by." And note well where it was that he stood: it was BY THE CROSS. He stood there in the face of the world. Three women were there, for devotion and faithfulness to Christ regardless of what others thought and did, always did show itself in these women who loved the Lord; but John was there also — he stood by the cross. What mattered it to him what the world thought of him, a love stronger than death had bound him to his crucified Master, he was "the disciple whom Jesus loved," and what else could he do in that dark hour but stand by the cross? But he would not have been there at all if he had not leaned on his Lord's bosom, and if the Lord's love had not been to him the supreme thing in his life. But he was there, the pattern disciple, and being there he indicates our place in regard to the world and Christ. Paul stood by the cross when he cried, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14). But what was it that put him there? He also knew that he was the disciple whom Jesus loved, for he said, "The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me."
We must stand by the cross to-day; we are not true disciples unless we do. The cross is not popular in the religious world. Men want a Christ without the cross, and a gospel without blood. As of old they taunted the Lord and said, "Come down from the cross and we will believe," so now they clamour for a Jesus, who is a great and winsome personality, a fearless reformer, a teacher of ethics. There is no such Jesus except in their darkened imaginations. He came to be the Saviour of men, because men were lost sinners, and He could not be the Saviour apart from the cross. It is to the Greek foolishness and to the Jew a stumbling block, and the reproach of it has not ceased, for it still strikes at the foundation of all man's boasting and pride, but to us who are saved it is the power and wisdom of God. Hence we stand by the cross. It is to us the supreme manifestation of the love of Christ that passeth knowledge; it is the revelation of God's heart. It was there that our sins were atoned for, there the cup of our judgment was drained to its last drop by our suffering Saviour; there the hatred and sin of men were fully exposed, but there the love of God shone out above it all in all its splendour. We must stand by the cross and let its meaning move our souls; as we do so we shall be consciously the disciples whom Jesus loves, and we shall respond to His love in faithfulness and praise.
And now see what came of John's faithfulness. "Jesus, therefore saw His mother and the disciple standing by whom He loved." Who can tell the solace it must have been in that dark hour to Him to see John there! "He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home." The Lord was able to trust John now; He could commit to him a precious legacy. And John was faithful to the trust. And He desires to trust us, to have us as His friends upon whom He can rely. What privilege could be greater than that? To have the Lord say to you, "I want you to care for some who are precious to Me. I want you to look after My interests on earth during My absence." Nothing could be greater or more desirable than that; and that is within the reach of us all. We have but to lean on His bosom and stand by his cross and the Lord will commit some charge to keep for Him.
In chapter 21 of our Gospel the risen Lord stood on the seashore and addressed His disciples after their long night of fruitless toil in words of tender solicitude, and brought the hitherto reluctant fish to their empty nets. Who could speak with such tenderness and authority but He? John recognized Him, and henceforward he followed Him and he did it without being told. Peter had to be told to follow the Lord, but not John in this Gospel. He is introduced at the beginning of it, following the Lord without being told, and the last sight we have of him in it he is still following without being told. He followed because he could do no other; the treasure he had found in the Lord's love had made him a disciple. He was attracted and not commanded, and in that lies true discipleship.
Peter turned about and saw him following, and said, "Lord, what shall this man do?" But that was not Peter's business. It should have been enough for him that the Lord had given him a path in which to tread, and the Lord gently rebukes him, but at the same time declares what pleases Him. "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee, follow thou Me." Then went the saying abroad among the brethren that that disciple should not die. But the Lord did not say that he should not die, and His words are repeated as if to give them emphasis: "If I will that he tarry till I come." What did He mean? He surely meant that He would have that kind of disciple here when He comes again. What kind of disciple? The disciple who leans on His bosom, stands by His cross, AND FOLLOWS HIM WITHOUT BEING TOLD. Ah, that is the sort of disciple we should all like to be.
Discipleship is a very individual thing. John had to follow for himself, and Peter for himself, and each of us must follow each for himself; yet for our full development in the blessed traits of it we need each other. We must have a Master to follow, and brethren to follow with. "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if you have love one for another," He has said. What He is to us we must be to one another, for He has left us an example that we should do to one another as He has done to us. In this true discipleship is secured, true, vital fellowship according to God. Neither rules nor regulations can secure this, and to make rules and restrictions is to go back to the age of law, and to be transgressors (Gal. 2). But to be dominated by the love of Christ and to be showing His love one to another, to be walking in love, is to be walking practically in the light and in the truth.
Now it is by the way of discipleship and fellowship that a full response to the revelation of the Father is given; for worship which the Father seeks is in its highest phase collective. "I will declare Thy Name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praises unto Thee." When fellowship does not exist there is not this character of responsive worship to the Father's Name, and love and fellowship of this sort can only be enjoyed and practised as we lean on the Lord's bosom, stand by His cross, and follow Him without being told, AND WAIT FOR HIS COMING AGAIN.
Blinding, Beguiling, Buffeting: The Activities of the Devil
Our Epistle begins with "Blessed be God," and it closes with our greatly-loved benediction: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all, Amen. We are marching home to glory, and our great enemy the devil besets us, and ever hangs on our flanks, but God is round about us. Father, Son and Holy Ghost attend us, and grace, love and communion fill us with triumphant song. Blessed for ever be the Name of our God.
My subject is the devil. A strange subject! Yes, but a most important one. It would serve his purpose well if we ignored or forgot his existence, for he would then be able to carry on his activities against us and we would be entirely unaware of them. And it is a fact that nobody was ever of much use to God who did not believe in the existence and malignant activities of the devil.
In Revelation 20, we are told that he is to be bound with a great chain and cast into the bottomless pit. When that judgment is executed upon him his character and work will be fully exposed, but it is there already revealed for us who believe. He is "the dragon, that old serpent, the devil and Satan." As the dragon he is the destroyer; as the old serpent he is the deceiver; as the devil, he is the accuser; as Satan, he is the adversary — the adversary of God, and of all good, and of our souls. Here then is his four-fold character — destroyer, deceiver, accuser, adversary. Now I want you to see how our Lord Jesus Christ stands out in contrast to the devil. If the devil is the destroyer, our Lord is the DELIVERER; and if the devil is the deceiver, our Lord is the TRUTH — the Holy and the True; if the devil is the accuser — the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12), our Lord is the INTERCESSOR AND ADVOCATE; and if the devil is the adversary, our Lord is THE FRIEND. You must choose, Christians, under whose control you will come. If you go in for the world you will come under the devil's control, for he is the "god" and the "prince" of it; if you seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness you will come under the control of Jesus, the Saviour, for He is Lord in that realm.
From this second Epistle to the Corinthians we learn that the devil is active against us in four distinct ways The Epistle shows us Christian character — that is why the writer speaks in it of "the meekness and gentleness of Christ." There is in it also a remarkable autobiography of the Apostle Paul, in whom Christian character was so clearly displayed. Now the thing the devil hates above all else is that Christ should shine out through us in this world. He cannot shine out if He has not shone in, so the first great effort of the devil is to prevent Him from shining in. "If our gospel be hid it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." The first of his activities is to BLIND the minds of men against the light of the knowledge of God.
How exceedingly devilish is this work of the devil. He would keep men in ignorance of the God who loves them, therefore he blinds their minds against the light that shines in the face of Jesus, for it is from His face that the light of what God is is shining now from that face that smiled upon the children, that looked with compassion upon the leper, and was wet with tears at the grave of Lazarus, and was marred more than any man's when He gave Himself to suffer for sinners! The devil uses all his subtlety and power to blind men to the light of grace that shines in that most blessed face. This is confirmed by the Lord's own words, when He interpreted the parable of the Sower to His disciples. He said, "Those by the wayside are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved." There is no pity in the heart of the devil, he labours for the damnation of men's souls; he wrought on us with this end in view, and succeeded for a while, but, thank God, we have been delivered from his blinding influence.
"Jesus, the Lord, our night broke through
And gave us light divine."
And we know God now; we can say with rapture, "God is love," and in that we rest.
I speak to those who are specially interested in the going forth of the gospel, and that should be true of every Christian. In preaching the gospel we have not only to meet the increasing indifference to God in the hearts of men, but we have to contend with the blinding power of the devil. How are we to deal with that? That great opposition cannot be overcome by eloquent words, and clever arguments. Fine singing and bright services cannot deliver souls from that darkness. This is a spiritual conflict, and we shall have to remember that we possess a pair of knees and we must use them in the presence of our God. We must learn what that means. "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." With man it is impossible, but not with God, and if we preach the word in dependence upon God, and carry on our service through God, or if He carries on His service through us, we shall not be ineffective, but shall have the joy of seeing sinners turned from darkness to light, even as we were. Blessed be the Name of our God!
Think again of the face of Jesus, and of the grace that has beamed upon you from it; think of the fact that He in that glory is your righteousness, that in Him you have a righteousness that is without a flaw, and that you know now that God is for you, revealed to you in His grace in your glorified Saviour. How attractive is your Saviour, and how glad you are that you have escaped from the blinding power of the devil and that you live now in this glorious light — the light of the grace of God that shines in His face. But now follows a marvellous thing; and I beseech you to consider it well; YOU ARE TO BE MARRIED TO THE MAN WHO HAS SAVED YOU! It is that that chapter 11 tells us. "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." Let that statement arrest and rivet you. The Man in the glory whose love and beauty have won your heart, the Man to whom you owe your deliverance from Satan's darkness, and to whom you owe your eternal salvation, is the One to whom you are to be bound by a bond that can never be dissolved. Not only will you bow in everlasting worship before Him, exulting in the fact that He is your Lord, but you are to be brought into this most intimate relationship with Him. The marriage day is not yet; these are the days of the espousals, but they are blessed days, and have their own peculiar sweetness.
Now the devil takes a hand in this business, he has set himself to mar these days of the espousals. He has been beaten in his efforts to blind you, and he cannot prevent the marriage day, but if he can BEGUILE you from your whole-hearted devotion to Christ, to whom you are espoused, he will do it. "I fear," wrote the Apostle, "lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from your simplicity as to Christ." He will come to you with enticing words, and "a besugared mouth"; and shrewd old John Bunyan tells us that he is never so dangerous as when he comes like that. He will insinuate that you may have something else as well as Christ, and that your Christian life will be none the worse for it, indeed it will be all the better; he may even use doctrine, and make you into a theologian; or service, and make you into a preacher — proud of yourself, your knowledge and your work. Then it will be self and not Christ. He will get the world into your heart if he can; it is this he desires above all things, and here his subtlety has full play; it will not seem to be the world at first, it will be the thin edge of the wedge that he will insinuate, but having accomplished that he will handle the beetle with force, and drive home the wedge, and thus he will separate you in your affections from your great Lover. It was thus with the church at Ephesus, to whom the Lord said, "Thou hast left thy first love." Oh, what a fall was there, my brethren, and what a grief to the heart of Christ; and how did it come about? Satan who beguiled Eve had beguiled them from their devotion to Christ. Are you safer from his wiles than they were? Are you stronger than they? In no wise. If Christ is the absorbing Object of your love, the devil is watching for an opportunity to beguile you; if Christ is not your absorbing Object, he has found that opportunity and has succeeded in his effort, and you too have fallen.
I am not urging you to be diligent in service, nor am I asking you to be valiant in fight. What I am pressing is that you keep yourselves for Christ. That is the greatest thing you can do. Everything else will be right if you are right as to that. How can that be done? You will have to keep His company and listen often to the words of love that flow from His lips. Hear Him say to you, for instance: "As the lily among the thorns so is My love among the daughters." What words of love are these! and what do they mean? Dr. Thompson, in his well-known book, The Land and the Book, says of this lily, "Our flower delights most in the valleys; but it is also found on the mountains. It grows among the thorns, and I have sadly lacerated my hands in extricating it from them." Do you now see the meaning of the words? Ah, it cost your great Lover something to secure you for Himself. How sorely lacerated was He, when He set Himself to extricate you from the thorns in which you grew, that you might be His, His wholly, now and for ever. His flesh was lacerated, for He showed. to His disciples His wounded hands and side, and you will see those same wounds one day, but who shall tell what He suffered when His soul was wounded and bruised, when He was made an offering for your sin? Will you be indifferent in respect to Christ? Can you be fickle, or lukewarm towards Him who has suffered so much in His love for you? Resist the devil when he would beguile you from Christ; cleave close to the Lord, and then even if Satan comes as an angel of light, you will detect his wiles, and to detect him is to defeat him.
There was one man whom he could not beguile from Christ, and that man was Paul. Then he would BUFFET him, "There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me." You must be prepared for like treatment; if the devil cannot beguile you he will buffet you. As we read in this Epistle what Paul suffered for Christ's sake, we wonder that mortal man could have survived it; yet we never hear of him praying for relief from those sufferings, or complaining of the hardness of his life; but when this messenger of Satan began to buffet him it was different. This was something so terrible that he began to pray for himself. Behold him bowing down on his knees and stretching imploring hands to his Lord and beseeching Him to deliver him from this thorn in the flesh and the buffeting of it. It is an affecting sight, what shall be the issue? Three times he urges his case and then there comes the answer. Oh, wonderful answer! "My grace is sufficient for thee." "My grace" and "thee." How those words throb with the tenderness of a perfect love. And consider them: The Lord at one end of the sentence and Paul at the other, and an all-sufficient grace between. The Ocean and the thimble, and the ocean enough for the thimble! And Paul cries, "I glory in my infirmities." He exults; he hugs his thorn as a great treasure, and the devil is beaten. "Buffet as you will, O Satan, you do but drive me nearer to my Lord," is the triumphant cry of this weak saint.
Are you being buffeted? Are you undergoing some peculiar trial, perhaps something that you had dreaded, some special form of suffering, it may be physical, or spiritual, or through your circumstances; are you being battered and buffeted? Satan hopes that you will compromise in your faithfulness to Christ, or seek desperately for relief from your trial and get it. He hopes to make you murmur, or be discouraged and give up. Consider buffeted Paul, and consider his Lord and yours, and let the words that stilled the storm in Paul's heart sing their peace-giving melody to you. "My grace is sufficient for thee, My strength is made perfect in weakness."
If the devil attacks the saints of God, he gets the worst of it. He is already a defeated foe; he knows that he has met his match and Master. The devil's Master, who is your Saviour and Lord, ever liveth for you. If the devil desires to have you that he may sift you, your Intercessor has prayed for you, and through Him you may be more than a conqueror. That is a great word. It belongs to the Divine Scriptures, and would have no meaning in mere human literature. There have been conquerors in the world's history; some of them have been great conquerors, such as Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, but they were not more than conquerors. What then is it to be more than a conqueror? To be buffeted and yet sing praises, to go through the storm and yet rejoice in the Lord; to have escaped the blinding, resisted the beguiling, and rejoiced in the buffeting of Satan: that is what it is to be more than a conqueror, and that you may be through Him that loves you.
Now a brief reference to his fourth activity, which is not individual but aimed against the whole company of the saints. These Christians at Corinth were slow to forgive a repentant brother. Their zeal for righteousness, for discipline, for correctness had outstripped their grace and love, and the Apostle wrote FORGIVE, "lest Satan should get an advantage over us: for we are not ignorant of his devices" (2 Cor. 2:11). God had forgiven them, they were an assembly of God, to show forth His character; Satan's purpose was to blur that image, to BESMIRCH the Name of the Lord. He wanted those saints to give a blemished representation of God and of Christ. He is just as busy at that to-day. "He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear."
Now see how this Epistle of the devil's defeat and of the saint's triumph closes. It begins with "Blessed be God," and it closes with our greatly-loved benediction, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen." We are marching home to glory, and our great enemy besets us and ever hangs on our flanks, but God is round about us. Father, Son and Holy Ghost attend us, and grace, love, and communion fill us with triumphant song. "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." Blessed for ever be the Name of our God!