Disciples Called and Tested

An Address at Glasgow, January 2nd, 1926

Leaning on the Lord's Bosom;
Standing by His Cross;
Following Him without being told;
Awaiting His Coming Again.

The great purpose of the coming of the Lord Jesus into this world was the REVELATION of the Father, but along with that, and without which the revelation would have been in vain, He came to secure a. RESPONSE in the hearts of men to the revelation. The New Testament might be called the Book of the Revelation and the Response. Only the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father could make the revelation and only He could secure the response. He secures the response by making disciples and they were made, and are still made, as He is magnified. I feel that I can speak but poorly on discipleship, but through grace I can say a good word for our Lord and Master, and no good word spoken of Him can be in vain.

Now the Lord is magnified in all the Gospels. Each writer, as instructed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, has fashioned a crown for His sacred head, but John unfolds for us as none other the blessedness of His person; in his Gospel Jesus "manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him," (chap. 2:11). The Gospel of John is the Gospel of the glory of the Son of God, but it might well have as a supplementary title, "Disciples Made and Tested." In the first chapter some of His glories pass before our eyes. He is the everlasting God who broke the silence of eternity by His creatorial word at the beginning of the chapter, and He is the Son of Man at the end of the chapter who will reconcile creation to God, binding heaven and earth together in one, and subjecting all to the will of God. Between the two He is proclaimed "the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world," and again this testimony is borne to Him, because in it we have the foundation of all blessing — without it there is none — "Behold the Lamb of God!" To that witness to Him there is an immediate response in the hearts of two young men. That title proclaims Him to be the great Redeemer, and it tells of love that surpasseth all human thought. It was this testimony that made disciples of these young men, it is this that is making disciples today. Threefold was the result of the words of the Baptist on these young men:
(1) They followed the Lord;
(2) They abode with the Lord;
(3) They witnessed for the Lord.
No man is a "disciple indeed" of whom these things are not true.

The sincerity of discipleship is tested when the Lord and Master is rejected, Many were ready to follow Him when they saw His miracles, or did eat of the loaves He fed them with. They never had had such a satisfying meal before. He was popular then, and these fair-weather disciples loved popularity; but when His words indicated that the way He led 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 until the Lord's 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 to the Father, having loved His own which were in the world He loved them to the end." His time for departure had come, and He knew all the shame and unspeakable sorrow that was bound up 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 on that behalf. Nothing could alter His love to them, it was greater than the waters of judgment and death — He loved them to the end. Bind together these two things — His departure out of the world by the way of Gethsemane, Gabatha 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 depths 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," that He was God's sent One, 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

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 of it. The Lord will yet fill the universe with the glory of God, but will He ever be greater than when girded with a towel He gave to His disciples an example that they should walk is His steps? No, it was when He stooped that the glory of His Person appeared, when He became the servant of all He was the greatest of all. But what was it that brought Him into this place of service? It was His unchanging love. But what was its object? That they might have part with Him? He desired that they should be brought into and maintained in the most blessed intimacy with Himself. I cannot at this time speak of the inner meaning of feet-washing in view of that, but I want to press the fact that He loved His disciples so ardently, and us also, that He cannot endure any distance or coldness. He must have us near to Himself, enjoying the holy intimacy that His love affords. And one of those disciples realized this, 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 wondrous joy to the sorrowing and troubled heart of the Lord. As leaning upon the 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." 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 did and thought always did show itself in these woman who loved the Lord; but John was there also — he stood by the cross. It was as though he said, "O world, the Man whom you hate and have crucified is the Man I love. He is my Lord and Master." 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 to me, and I to 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 today; we are not true disciples unless we do, for the cross is despised and rejected by 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 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, 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 the wisdom of God. Hence we stand by the cross. It is to us the supreme manifestation of the love of Christ, the revelation of God's heart to us. There our sins I were swept away, there the cup of our judgment was drained, there the hatred and sin of men were fully exposed, but there the love, of God shone out to us in all its splendour. To be "disciples indeed" 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 says to His mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then says He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her to 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. Do you not desire that? 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 upon His bosom and stand by His cross and the Lord will commit to us some charge to keep for Him.

It is remarkable that in the resurrection chapter, when Peter and John run to the empty grave and return to their own homes, John does not speak of himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." The news of the resurrection comes to him by that name in verse 2, but afterwards he speaks of himself three times as "that other disciple"; but when he sees the Lord, in chapter 21, when all doubts had disappeared, he returns to the precious epithet. As the Lord stood on the seashore and addressed His disciples in words of tender solicitude, and brought the hitherto reluctant fish to their nets, John recognized Him, and henceforward he followed Jesus, 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 to us at the beginning of it, following the Lord without being told, and the last glimpse we have of him in it he is still following without being told. He followed because he could not do other, the treasure he had found in the Lord's love 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 rebukes him for his officiousness, but at the same time clearly 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 — note that the disciples were brethren; in following the Lord they followed together and had a brotherly interest in one another; they belonged to one family. 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? I believe that He 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. Thank God, we may be just that sort of disciple.

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; but 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 one another as He has done to us. In this true fellowship 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, and therein lies true fellowship.

Now it is by the way of discipleship and fellowship that a full response to should do 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 to my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praises to 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.