LOVE TO THE UTTERMOST
EXPOSITIONS OF JOHN XIII—XXI.
F. B. MEYER, B. A.
"The life and Light of Men: Expositions of John I.—XII.;" "Old Testament Heroes;" "The Shepherd Psalm;" etc.
NEW YORK —— CHICAGO —— TORONTO
Fleming H. Revell Company
Publishers of Evangelical Literature
Fleming H. Revell Company
THIS BOOK ON
THE UTTERMOST LOVE OF CHRIST
TO MY DEAR WIFE,
WHOSE PATIENT CARE OF OUR HOME
HAS ENABLED ME
TO WRITE SO MUCH AND TRAVEL SO FAR
IN HIS SERVICE.
The former book on the first twelve chapters of this sublime Gospel was called, The Life and Light of Men. The title was naturally suggested by the subject-matter of those chapters. We had little difficulty in finding a title for the present book, which covers, however cursorily, the remainder of the Gospel. It lay open before us in the opening verses of the thirteenth chapter, as translated in the margin of the Revised Version. "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them to the uttermost."
It has been impossible, in the limited space at my disposal, to deal with these chapters as I would. Indeed, to do so, it would be necessary to know the length, and breadth, and depth, and height of the Love of God, which passeth knowledge. Time has been allowed to elapse, in the hope that the view would be clearer, and the expression more adequate, of the deep things to which the Lord gave expression. But it is useless to wait till one is satisfied of the adequacy of one's work, else life will have run its course before a beginning has been made. At the end of ten more years, the task would seem still more impracticable.
In the closing chapters I have woven together the narratives of the four evangelists, so as to give a succinct and connected account of the last hours of our Lord's life, and especially of His death. It has been a great delight thus to tread the Via Crucis, which is also the Via Lucis—the Way of the Cross, which is the Way of Life, and Light, and Love.
F. B. MEYER.
I THE LAVER IN THE LIFE OF JESUS II THRICE BIDDEN TO LOVE III HEAVEN DELAYED, BUT GUARANTEED IV "MANY MANSIONS" V THE REALITY OF WHICH JACOB'S DREAM WAS THE SHADOW VI CHRIST REVEALING THE FATHER VII THE GREAT DEEDS OF FAITH VIII HOW TO SECURE MORE AND BETTER PRAYER IX THE OTHER PARACLETE X THE THREE DISPENSATIONS XI THREE PARADOXES XII MANY MANSIONS FOR GOD XIII CHRIST'S LEGACY AND GIFT OF PEACE XIV THE STORY OF THE VINE XV "ABIDE IN ME, AND I IN YOU" XVI PRAYER THAT PREVAILS XVII THE HATRED OF THE WORLD XVIII THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT ON THE WORLD XIX CHRIST'S RETICENCE SUPPLEMENTED BY THE SPIRIT'S ADVENT XX THE CONQUEROR OF THE WORLD XXI CONSECRATED TO CONSECRATE XXII THE LORD'S PRAYER FOR HIS PEOPLE'S ONENESS XXIII THE LOVE THAT BOUND CHRIST TO THE CROSS XXIV DRINKING THE CUP XXV THE HALL OF ANNAS XXVI HOW IT FARED WITH PETER XXVII THE TRIAL BFFORE CAIAPHAS XXVIII "JUDAS, WHICH BETRAYED HIM" XXIX THE FIRST TRIAL BEFORE PILATE XXX THE SECOND TRIAL BEFORE PILATE XXXI THE SEVEN SAYINGS OF THE CROSS XXXII CHRIST'S BURIAL XXXIII THE DAY OF RESURRECTION XXXIV THE LAKE OF GALILEE XXXV PETER'S LOVE AND WORK XXXVI THE LIFE-PLAN OF PETER AND JOHN XXXVII BACK TO THE FATHER
LOVE TO THE UTTERMOST
Expositions of John xiii.-xxi.
The Laver in the Life of Jesus
"He poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with a towel wherewith He was girded."—JOHN xiii. 5.
In the court of the Temple there were two objects that arrested the eye of the entering worshipper—the Brazen Altar, and the Laver. The latter was kept always full of pure, fresh water, for the constant washings enjoined by the Levitical code. Before the priests were consecrated for their holy work, and attired in the robes of the sacred office, they washed there (Ex. xxix. 4). Before they entered the Holy Place in their ordinary ministry, and before Aaron, on the great Day of Atonement, proceeded to the Most Holy Place, with blood, not his own, it was needful to conform to the prescribed ablutions. "He shall bathe his flesh in water" (Lev. xvi. 4).
First, then, the Altar, and then the Laver; the order is irreversible, and the teaching of the types is as exact as mathematics. Hence, when the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews invites us to draw near, and make our abode in the Most Holy Place, he carefully obeys the Divine order, and bids us "draw near, with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water."
In this scene (John xiii. 1-14), on the eve of our Lord's betrayal, we find the spiritual counterpart of the Laver, just as the Cross stands for the Brazen Altar.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCE THAT LED TO THIS ACT OF LOVE.—In order fully to understand this touching incident, it is necessary to remember the circumstances out of which it sprang. On the way from Bethany to the upper room in which the Supper had been prepared, and on entering therein, our Lord must have been deeply absorbed in the momentous events in which He was to be the central figure; but He was not unmindful of a contention which had engaged His disciples, for they had been disputing one with another as to which of them should be the greatest. The proud spirit of the flesh, which so often cursed the little group, broke out in this awful hour with renewed energy, as though the prince of this world would inflict a parting blow on his great Antagonist, through those whom He loved best. It was as if he said, "See the results of Thy tears and teachings, of Thy prayers and pleadings; the love which Thou hast so often inculcated is but a passing sentiment, that has never rooted itself in the soil of these wayward hearts. It is a plant too rare and exotic for the climate of earth. Take it back with Thee to Thine own home if Thou wilt, but seek not to achieve the impossible." It was heartrending that this exhibition of pride should take place just at this juncture. These were the men who had been with Him in His temptations, who had had the benefit of His most careful instructions, who had been exposed to the full influence of His personal character; and yet, notwithstanding all, the rock-bed of pride, that cast the angels down from heaven, that led to the fall of man, obtruded itself. This occasion in which it manifested itself was very inopportune; already the look of Calvary was on the Saviour's face, and the sword entering His heart. Surely, they must have been aware that the shadow of the great eclipse was already passing over the face of their Sun. But even this did not avail to restrain the manifestation of their pride. Heedless of three years of example and teaching; unrestrained by the symptoms of our Lord's sorrow; unchecked by the memory of happy and familiar intercourse, which should have bound them forever in a united brotherhood, they wrangled with high voices and hot faces, with the flashing eye and clenched fist of the Oriental, as to who should be first.
And if pride thus asserted itself after such education, and under such circumstances, let us be sure that it is not far away from any one of us. We do not now contend, in so many words, for the chief places; courtesy, politeness, fear of losing the respect of our fellows, restrain us. But our resentment to the fancied slight, or the assumption by another of work which we thought our own; our sense of hurtness when we are put aside; our jealousy and envy; our detracting speeches, and subtle insinuations of low motive, all show how much of this loveless spirit rankles in our hearts. We have been planted in the soil of this world, and we betray its flavor; we have come of a proud stock, we betray our heredity.
II. LOVE'S SENSITIVENESS TO SIN ON THE PART OF ITS BELOVED.—Consider these epithets of the love of Christ:
It was unusually tender.—When the hour of departure approaches, though slight reference be made to it, love lives with the sound of the departing wheels, or the scream of the engine, always in its ear; and there are given a tenderness to the tone, a delicacy to the touch, a thoughtfulness for the heartache of those from which it is to be parted, which are of inexpressible beauty. All that was present with Christ. He was taking that Supper with them before He suffered. He knew that He would soon depart out of this world unto the Father; His ear was specially on the alert; His nature keenly alive; His heart thrilling with unusual tenderness, as the sands slowly ran out from the hour-glass.
It was supreme love.—"Having loved His own that were in the world, He loved them unto the end." Those last words have been thought to refer to the end of life, but it surely were superfluous to tell us that the strong waters of death could not quench the love of the Son of Man. When once He loves, He loves always. It is needless to tell us that the Divine heart which has enshrined a soul will not forsake it; that the name of the beloved is never erased from the palms of the hands, that the covenant is not forgotten though eternity elapse. Of course Christ loves to the end, even though that end reaches to endlessness. We do not need to be assured that the Immortal Lover, who has once taken us up to union with Himself, can never loose His hold. Therefore it is better to adopt the alternative suggested by the margin of the Revised Version, "He loved them to the uttermost." There was nothing to be desired. Nothing was needed to fill out the ideal of perfect love. Not a stitch was required for the needle-work of wrought gold; not a touch demanded for the perfectly achieved picture; not a throb additional to the strong pulse of affection with which He regarded His own.
It is very wonderful that He should have loved such men like this. As we pass them under review at this time of their life, they seem a collection of nobodies, with the exception perhaps of John and Peter. But they were His own, there was a special relationship between Him and them. They had belonged to the Father, and He had given them to the Son as His special perquisite and belonging. "Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me." May we dare, in this meaning, to apply to Christ that sense of proprietorship, which makes a bit of moorland waste, a few yards of garden-ground, dear to the freeholder?
"Breathes there the man with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said, This is my own . . .?"
It was because these men were Christ's own, that the full passion of His heart set in toward them, and He loved them to the utmost bound; that is, the tides filled the capacity of the ocean-bed of possibility.
It was bathed in the sense of His Divine origin and mission.—The curtain was waxing very thin. It was a moment of vision. There had swept across His soul a realization of the full meaning of His approaching triumph. He looked back, and was hardly conscious of the manger where the horned oxen fed, the lowly birth, the obscure years, in the sublime conception that He had come forth from God. He looked forward, and was hardly conscious of the cross, the nail, the thorn-crown, and the spear, because of the sublime consciousness that He was stepping back, to go to Him with whom He realized His identity. He looked on through the coming weeks, and knew that the Father had given all things into His hands. What the devil had offered as the price of obeisance to himself, that the Father was about to give Him, nay, had already given Him, as the price of His self-emptying. And if for a moment He stooped, as we shall see He did, to the form of a servant, it was not because of any failure to recognize His high dignity and mission, but with the sense of Godhead quick on His soul.
The love which went out toward this little group of men had Deity in it. It was the love of the Throne, of the glory He had with the Father before the worlds were, of that which now fills the bosom of His ascended and glorified nature.
He was aware of the task to which He was abandoning these men.—He knew that as He was the High Priest over the house of God, they were its priests. He knew that cleansing was necessary before they could receive the anointing of the Holy Ghost. He knew that the great work of carrying forward His Gospel was to be delegated to their hands. He knew that they were to carry the sacred vessels of the Gospel, which must not be blurred or fouled by contact with human pride or uncleanness. He knew that the very mysteries of Gethsemane and Calvary would be inexplicable, and that none might stand on that holy hill, save those that had clean hands and a pure heart; and because of all this, He turned to them, by symbol and metaphor, to impress upon their heart and memory the necessity of participating in the cleansing of which the Laver is the type.
The highest love is ever quickest to detect the failures and inconsistencies of the beloved. Just because of its intensity, it can be content with nothing less than the best, because the best means the blessedest; and it longs that the object of its thought should be most blessed forever. It is a mistake to think that green-eyed jealousy is quickest to detect the spots on the sun, the freckles on the face, and the marring discords in the music of the life; love is quicker, more microscopic, more exacting that the ideal should be achieved. Envy is content to indicate the fault, and leave it; but love detects, and waits and holds its peace until the fitting opportunity arrives, and then sets itself to remove, with its own tenderest ministry, the defect which had spoiled the completeness and beauty of its object.
Perhaps there had never been a moment in the human consciousness of our Lord, when, side by side with this intense love for His own, there had been so vivid a sense of oneness with His Father, of His unity with the source of Infinite Purity and Blessedness. We might have supposed that this would have alienated Him from His poor friends, but in this our thoughts are not as His. Just because of His awful holiness, He was quick to perceive the unholiness of His friends, and could not endure it, and essayed to rid them of it. Just because of His Divine goodness He could detect the possibilities of goodness in them, and be patient enough to give it culturing care.
The most perfect musician may be most tortured by incompetence; but he will be most likely to detect true merit, and give time to its training. "The powerfullest magnet will pick out, in the powdered dust of the ironstone, fine particles of metal that a second or third-rate magnet would fail to draw to itself." Do not dread the awful holiness of Jesus; it is your hope. He will never be content till He has made you like Himself; and side by side with His holiness, never fail to remember His gentle, tender love.
III. THE DIVINE HUMILITY, THAT COPES WITH HUMAN SIN.—"He riseth from supper, and layeth aside His garments; and He took a towel and girded Himself." This is what the apostle calls taking upon Himself the form of a servant. The charm of the scene is its absolute simplicity. You cannot imagine Christ posturing to the ages. There was no aiming at effect, no thought of the beauty or humility of the act, as there is when the Pope yearly washes the feet of twelve beggars, from a golden basin, wiping them with a towel of rarest fabric! Christ did not act thus for show or pretence, but with an absolutely single purpose of fulfilling a needed office. And in this He set forth the spirit of our redemption.
This is the key to the Incarnation.—With slight alteration the words will read truly of that supreme act. He rose from the throne, laid aside the garments of light which He had worn as His vesture, took up the poor towel of humanity, and wrapped it about His glorious Person; poured His own blood into the basin of the Cross, and set Himself to wash away the foul stains of human depravity and guilt.
As pride was the source of human sin, Christ must needs provide an antidote in His absolute humility—a humility which could not grow beneath these skies, but must be brought from the world where the lowliest are the greatest, and the most childlike reign as kings.
This is the key to every act of daily cleansing.—We have been washed. Once, definitely, and irrevocably, we have been bathed in the crimson tide that flows from Calvary. But we need a daily cleansing. Our feet become soiled with the dust of life's highways; our hands grimy, as our linen beneath the rain of filth in a great city; our lips are fouled, as the white doorstep of the house, by the incessant throng of idle, unseemly and fretful words; our hearts cannot keep unsoiled the stainless robes with which we pass from the closet at morning prime. Constantly we need to repair to the Laver to be washed. But do we always realize how much each act of confession, on our part, involves from Christ, on His? Whatever important work He may at that moment have on hand; whatever directions He may be giving to the loftiest angels for the fulfillment of His purposes; however pressing the concerns of the Church or the universe upon His broad shoulders, He must needs turn from all these to do a work He will not delegate. Again He stoops from the throne, and girds Himself with a towel, and, in all lowliness, endeavors to remove from thee and me the strain which His love dare not pass over. He never loses the print of the nail; He never forgets Calvary and the blood; He never spends one hour without stooping to do the most menial work of cleansing filthy souls. And it is because of this humility He sits on the Throne and wields the sceptre over hearts and worlds.
This is the key to our ministry to each other.—I have often thought that we do not often enough wash one another's feet. We are conscious of the imperfections which mar the characters of those around us. We are content to note, criticise, and learn them. We dare not attempt to remove them. This failure arises partly because we do not love with a love like Christ's—a love which will brave resentment, annoyance, rebuke, in its quest,—and partly because we are not willing to stoop low enough.
None can remove the mote of another, so long as the beam is left in the eye, and the sin unjudged in the life, None can cleanse the stain, who is not willing to take the form of a servant, and go down with bare knees upon the floor. None is able to restore those that are overtaken in a fault, who do not count themselves the chief of sinners and the least of saints.
We need more of this lowly, loving spirit: not so sensitive to wrong and evil as they affect us, as anxious for the stain they leave on the offender. It is of comparatively small consequence how much we suffer; it is of much importance that none of Christ's disciples should be allowed to go on for a moment longer, with unconfessed and unjudged wrongs clouding their peace, and hindering the testimony which they might give. Let us therefore watch for each other's souls: let us consider one another to provoke to love and good works; let us in all sincerity do as Christ has done, washing each other's feet in all humility and tender love. But this spirit is impossible save through fellowship with the Lamb of God, and the reception of His holy, humble nature into the inmost heart, by the Holy Ghost.
Thrice Bidden to Love
"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another."—JOHN xiii. 34.
Anacreon complains that when they asked him to sing of heroic deeds, he could only sing of love. But the love with which he fills his sonnets will bear as much comparison with that of which Jesus spoke in His last discourse, as the flaring oil of a country fair with the burning of the heavenly constellations. Even the love that binds young hearts is too selfish and exclusive to set forth that pure ray which shone from the heart of the Son of Man, and shines and will shine. What word shall we use to describe it?
Charity?—The disposition denoted by this great word does not fulfill the measure of the love of Christ. It is cold and severe. It can be organized. It casts its dole to the beggar and turns away, content to have relieved the sentiment of pity. By being employed for one manifestation of love, charity is too limited and restricted in its significance to become an adequate expression of the Divine love which Drought Jesus from the throne, and should inspire us to lay down our lives for the brethren.
Philanthropy?—This is a great word, "the love of man." And yet the philanthropist is too often content with the general patronage of good works, the elaboration of schemes, the management of committees, to do much personal work for the amelioration of the world. The word is altogether too distant, too deficient in the personal element, too extensive in its significance. It will not serve to represent the Divine compassion with which the heart of Christ was, at the moment of speaking, in tumult.
Complacency?—No; for this is the emotion excited by the contemplation of merit and virtue, which turns away from sin and deformity; and the sentiment denoted by our Master's words is one that is not brought into existence by virtue, nor extinguished by demerit and vice.
Since all these words fail, we are driven to speak of love, as Christ used the word, as being the essence of the Divine nature, for God is love. It is the indwelling of God in the soul. It is the transmitting through our lives of that which we have received in fellowship with the uncreated glory of the Divine Being. That which was in the beginning between the Father and the Son; that which constrained our Emmanuel to sojourn in this world of sin; that which inspired His sacrifice; that which dwells perennially in His heart, vanquishing time and distance; which overflows all expressions, and defies definition—is the love of which these words speak, and which we are commanded to entertain toward each other.
It is a commandment: "These things I command you." "This is His commandment: that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another even as He gave us commandment." Obviously, then, obedience must be possible. Christ had gauged our nature not only as Creator, but by personal experience. He knew what was in man. The possibilities of our nature were well within His cognizance; therefore it must be possible for us to love one another qualitatively, if not quantitatively, as He has loved us. Do not sit down before this great command and say it is impossible; that were to throw discredit on Him who spake it. Dare to believe that no word of His is vain. He descries eminences of attainment which it is possible for us all to reach: let us surrender ourselves to Him, that He should fulfill in us His ideal, and make us experts in the science of love.
It is a new commandment.—Archbishop Ussher on a memorable occasion called it the eleventh. It is recorded that having heard of the simplicity and beauty of the ordering of Rutherford's home, he resolved to visit it for himself. One Saturday night he arrived alone at the Manse, and asked for entertainment over the next day. A simple but hearty welcome was accorded him; and after partaking of the frugal fare, he was invited to join the household in religious exercises which ushered in the Lord's day.
"How many commandments are there?" the master asked his guest, wholly unaware who he was.
"Eleven," was the astonishing reply; at which the very servants were scandalized, regarding the newcomer as a prodigy of ignorance. But the man of God perceived the rare light of character and insight which gleamed beneath the answer, and asked for a private interview. This issued in the invitation to preach on the following day. To the amazement of the household, so scandalized on the previous night, the stranger appeared in the master's pulpit, and announced the words on which we are meditating as his text, adding, "This may be described as the eleventh commandment."
Obedience to this fulfills the rest.—Love is the fulfilling of the law. Do we need to be told to have no other gods but God, to forbear taking His name in vain, and to devote one day in seven to the cultivation of a closer relationship with Him, if we love Him with all our soul and mind and strength? Do we need to be warned against killing our neighbor, stealing his goods, or bearing false witness against his character, if we love him as ourselves? Only let a man be filled with this divine disposition which is the unique characteristic of God; let him be filled with the spirit of love; let him be perfected in love, and, almost unconsciously, he will not only be kept from infringing the prohibitions of the law of Sinai, but will be inspired to fulfill the requirements of the Mount of Beatitudes. Love, and do as you like. You will like to do only what God would like you to do.
There is a very important purpose to be realized in obeying this command.—"By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another." Every Church claims to be the true representative of Christ. The Eastern, because it occupies the lands where Christianity was cradled. The Roman Catholic, because it professes to be able to trace its orders to the apostles. But, amid the hubbub of rival claims, the world, unconvinced, still awaits the emergence of the true Bride of the Lamb. The one note of the true Church is Love. When once men of different nationalities and countries behold its manifestation, they do not hesitate to acknowledge the presence of God, and to admit that those who are animated by perfect love to Him and to one another constitute a unique organization, which cannot have originated in the will or intellect of man, but, like the New Jerusalem, must have come out of heaven from God. So sublime, so transcendent, so unearthly is love, that its presence is significant of the handiwork of God, as the fire that burned in the bush indicated that the "I AM" was there.
Love is a supreme test, not only of the Church, but of the individual. It has been the mistake of every age to make faith rather than love the test of Christianity. "Tell me how much a man believes, and I shall know how good a Christian he is!" The whole endeavor of the mediaeval Church was to reduce the followers of Christ to a uniformity of belief. And in our own time, a man is permitted by consent to be grasping after money, imperious in temper, uncharitable in speech, without losing position in the Church, so long as he assents to all the clauses of an orthodox creed.
With Christ, however, love is all-important. A man may have faith enough to remove mountains, but if he have not love, he is nothing, and lighter than vanity in the estimation of heaven. Faith ranks with hope and love, but it is destined to pass as the blossoms of spring before the fruit of autumn, whilst love shall abide forevermore. A man may have a very inadequate creed; like the woman of old, he may think there is virtue in a garment, or a rite; like Thomas, he may find it impossible to attain to the exuberant confidence of his brethren; but if he loves Christ enough to be prepared to die for Him, if through the narrow aperture of a very limited faith, love enough has entered his soul from the source of love, Christ will entrust him with the tending of His sheep and lambs, and call him into the secret place. Of course, the more full-orbed and intelligent our faith, the quicker and intenser will be our love. But faith, after all, is but the hand that takes, whilst love is the fellowship of kindred hearts that flash each on the other the enkindling gleam.
If you do not love, though you count yourself illumined with the light of perfect knowledge, you are in the dark. "He that hateth his brother is in the darkness, even until now."
If you do not love, you are dead. "He that loveth not, abideth in death." The light sparkle of intellectual or emotional life may light up your words, and fascinate your immediate circle of friends, but there will be no life toward God. Love is the perfect tense of live. Whoso does not love does not live, in the deepest sense. There are capacities for richer existence that never unfold until love stands at the portal and sounds his challenge, and summons the sleeper to awake and arise.
If you do not love, you are under the thrall of the devil, into whose dark nature love never comes. "Herein the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil. Cain was of the wicked one, and slew his brother."
"As I have loved you." Life is one long education to know the love of God. "We have known and believed the love that God hath to us," is the reflection of an old man reviewing the past. Each stage of life, each phase of experience, is intended to give us a deeper insight into the love wherewith we are loved; and as each discovery breaks upon our glad vision, we are bidden to exemplify it to others. Does Jesus forgive to the seventy-seventh time? We must forgive in the same measure. Does Jesus forget as well as forgive? We, too, must forgive after the same fashion. Does Jesus seek after the erring, and endeavor to induce the temper of mind that will crave forgiveness? We also must seek the man who has transgressed against us, endeavoring to lead him to a better mind. The Christian knows no law or limit but that imposed by these significant words, spoken on the eve of Christ's sacrifice, "As I have loved you."
Thus all life gives opportunities for the practice of this celestial temper and disposition. It has been said that talent develops in solitude, whilst character is made in the strain of life. Be it so. Then the character of loving may be made stronger by every association we have with our fellows. Each contact with men, women, and children, may give us an opportunity of loving with a little more of the strength, purity, and sweetness of the love of Christ. The busiest life can find time for the cultivation of this spirit. That which is spent in a crowd will even have greater opportunities than the one which is limited to solitude. The distractions and engagements that threaten to break our lives up to a number of inconsiderable fragments may thus conduce to a higher unity than could be gained by following one occupation, or concentrating ourselves on one object.
Let us gird up the loins of our minds, and resolve to seek a baptism of love from the Holy Ghost, that we may be perfected in love; that we may love God first, and all else in Him, ascending from our failures to a more complete conformity to the love wherewith He has loved us; embracing the sinful and erring in the compass of our compassion, as we embrace the Divine and Eternal in the compass of our adoration and devotion.
Heaven Delayed, but Guaranteed
"Simon Peter said unto Him, Lord, whither goest Thou? Jesus answered him. Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterward."—JOHN xiii. 36.
These chapters are holy ground. The last words of our dearest, spoken in the seclusion of the death-chamber to the tear-stained group gathered around, are not for all the world, and are recorded only to those whose love makes them able to appreciate. And what are these words that now begin to flow from the Master's lips, but His last to His own? They were held back so long as Judas was there. There was a repression caused by his presence which hindered the interchange of confidences; but, when he was gone, love hastened to her secret stores, and drew forth her choicest, rarest viands to share them, that they might be in after days a strength and solace.
This marvellous discourse, which begins in chapter xiii. 31, continues through chapters xiv., xv., xvi., and closes in the sublime prayer of chapter xvii. Better that all the literature of the world should have shared the fate of the Alexandrian library, than that these precious words should have been lost amid the fret of the ages.
The Lord commences His discourse by speaking of His speedy departure. "Little children," He said, using a term which indicated that He felt toward them a parental tenderness, and spoke as a dying father might have done to the helpless babes that gathered around his bed, "I am to be with you for a very little time longer; the sand has nearly run out in the hour-glass. I know you will seek Me; your love will make you yearn to be with Me where I am, to continue the blessed intimacy, the ties which within the last few weeks have been drawn so much closer; but it will not be possible. As I said to the Jews, so must I say to you, Whither I go, ye cannot come." He then proceeds to give them a new commandment of love, as though He said: "The cannot which prevents you following Me now is due to a lack of perfect love on your part, as well as for other reasons; it is necessary, therefore, that you wait to acquire it, ere you can be with Me where I am."
Simon Peter hardly hears Him uttering these last words; he is pondering too deeply what he has just heard, and calls the Master back to that announcement, as though He had passed it with too light a tread: "Going away! Lord, whither goest Thou?" To that question our Lord might have given a direct answer: "Heaven! The Father's bosom! The New Jerusalem! The City of God!" Any of these would have been sufficient; but instead He says in effect: "It is a matter of comparative indifference whither I go; I have no wish to feed curiosity with descriptions of things in the heavens, which you could not understand." The main point for you, in this brief life, is so to become assimilated to Me in humility, devotion, likeness, and character, that you may be able to be My companion and friend in those new paths on which I am entering, as you have been in those which I am now leaving. "Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterward."
The words staggered Peter; he could not understand what Christ meant; he could not see how much had to be done before he could share in Christ's coming glory. He made the same mistake as James and John had done before, and wanted the throne, without perceiving that it was conditioned on fellowship in the cup and the baptism into death. With deep emotion he persisted in his inquiries: "Why cannot I follow Thee now? There is no place on earth to which I would not go with Thee. Have I not already left all to follow Thee? Have I not been with Thee on the Transfiguration Mount, as well as in Thy journeyings? There is but one experience through which I have not passed with Thee, and that is death; but if that stands next in Thy life-plan, I will lay down my life for Thy sake. Anything to be with Thee."
How little Peter knew himself! How much better did Christ know him. "What! dost thou profess thyself willing to die with Me? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt deny Me thrice, between now and cock-crow to-morrow morning." These words silenced Peter for all the evening afterward. He does not appear to have made another remark, but was absorbed in heart-breaking grief: though all the while there rang in his heart those blessed words of hope: "Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterward"—words which our Lord caught up and expanded for the comfort of them all, who now with Peter for the first time realized that they were about to be parted from Jesus, and were almost beside themselves with grief: "Let not your heart be troubled. . . ."
I. THE DESIRE TO BE WITH CHRIST.—This was paramount. These simple men had little thought of heaven as such. If Christ had begun to speak of golden pavement, gates of pearl, and walls of chrysolite, they would have turned from His glowing words with the one inquiry, "Wilt Thou be there?" If that question had been answered uncertainly, they would have turned away heart-sick, saying: "If Thou art not there, we have no desire for it; but if Thou wert in the darkest, dreariest spot in the universe, it would be heaven to us."
There were three desires, the strands of which were woven in this one yearning desire and prayer to be with Christ. They wanted His love, His teaching, His leading into full, richer life. And is not this our position also? We want Christ, not hereafter only, but here and now, for these three self-same reasons.
We want His love.—There is no love like His—so pure and constant and satisfying. What the sun is to a star-light, and the ocean to a pool left by the retiring tide, such is the love of Jesus compared with all other love. To have it is superlative blessedness; to miss it is to thirst forever.
We want His light.—He speaks words that cast light on the mysteries of existence, on the dark problems of life, on the perplexing questions which are perpetually knocking at our doors.
We want His life.—Fuller and more abundant life is what we crave. It is of life that our veins are scant. We desire to have the mighty tides of divine life always beating strongly within us, to know the energy, vigor, vitality of God's life in the soul. And we are conscious that this is to be found only in Him.
Therefore we desire to be with Him, to drink deeper into His fellowship, to know Him and the power of His resurrection, to be brought into an abidingness from which we shall never recede. We have known Christ after the flesh; we desire to know Him after the Spirit. We have known Him in humiliation; we want to know Him in His glory. We have known Him as the Lamb of the Cross; we want to know Him as the Divine Man on the throne.
II. THE FATAL OBSTACLE TO THE IMMEDIATE GRANTING OF THESE DESIRES.—"Thou canst not follow Me now." There is thus a difference in His words to His disciples, and those to the Jews. These also were told that they could not follow Him, but the word now was omitted. There was no hope held out to them of the great gulf being bridged. That was the cannot of moral incompatibility; this, of temporary unfitness, which by the grace of God would finally pass away, and the whole of their aspirations be realized (John vii. 34; viii. 21).
It is easy to see why Peter was unfit for the deeper realization of Christ in His resurrection. Our Lord had just spoken of being glorified through death. It was as Judas left the chamber, intent on his betrayal, that Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified!" He saw that the hidden properties of His being could only be unfolded and uttered through death and resurrection. But Peter had little sympathy with this; he might avow his determination to die, but he had never really entered into the meaning of death, and all it might involve.
He could not detect evil. The traitor was beside him; but he had to ask the beloved disciple to elicit from Jesus who it might be by whom the Master would be betrayed.
He was out of sympathy with the Lord's humiliation, so that he chode with Him for stooping to wash his feet; and if he could not understand the significance and necessity of this lowly deed of love, how could he enter into the spirit of that life which was planted in death, and which bore even in resurrection the print of the nails?
He strove with the rest for the primacy. Who should be the greatest? was the question that agitated them, as the other evangelists tell us, in that solemn hour. And none that was possessed with that spirit of pride and emulation could be in harmony with that blessed world where the greatest are the lowliest, the highest the least, and the King set on the right hand of power, because more capable of humbling Himself than any beside.
But, besides all this, Peter was animated by the strong spirit of self-assertion and determination. Always on the lake shore he had been able to get to the front by his stronger voice, and broader shoulders, and more vehement manner. Why should he not do the same now? Why could he not keep pace with Christ even through the dark valley, and accompany Him through unknown worlds?
It cannot be, said Christ; you are too strong in your carnal strength, too self-reliant, too confident. It is not possible for you to be with Me, in the life that springs from death, and to which death is the door, till you have deeply drunk into the spirit of My death. You are too strong to follow Me when I descend to the lowest on My way to the highest; I must take for My companion now a forgiven malefactor; but I will some day come for you, and receive you to Myself.
So Peter had to be broken on the wheel of a servant-girl's question, and humbled to the dust. In those bitter hours he was thoroughly emptied of his old proud, self-reliant, vain-glorious spirit, and became as a little child.
This must be our path also. We must descend with Christ, if we would ascend to sit at His side. We must submit to the laying of our pride in the very dust. We must accept humiliations and mortifications, the humblings of perpetual failure and shortcoming, the friction and fret of infirmity and pain; and when we have come to an end of ourselves, we shall begin to know Christ in a new and deeper fashion. He will pass by and say, "Live!" The spirit of His life will enter into us; the valley of Achor will become a door of hope, and we shall sing God's glad new song of Hope. The ideal which had long haunted us, in our blood, but unable to express itself, will burst into a perfect flower of exquisite scent and hue.
III. THE CERTAINTY OF THE ULTIMATE GRATIFICATION OF EVERY DESIRE GOD HAS IMPLANTED.—This is an absolute certainty, that God inserts no desire or craving in our nature, for which there is no appropriate gratification. The birds do not seek for food which is not ready for them. The young lions do not ask for prey that is not awaiting them somewhere in the forest glade. Hence the absoluteness of that shall—"Thou shalt follow Me afterward." It is as if Jesus said, "I have taught you to love Me, and long after Me; and I will certainly gratify the appetite which I have created."
Pentecost was the Divine fulfillment of all those conditions of which we have been speaking. It was not enough that Peter should be an emptied and broken man; he must become also a God-possessed, a Spirit-filled man. Thus only could he be fitted to know Christ after a spiritual sort, and to participate in His Resurrection Life. It was surely to the Advent of the Holy Ghost that our Lord referred in that significant afterward.
We too must seek our share in Pentecost. Do not be content with "Not I"; go on to say, "but Christ." Do not be satisfied with the emptying of the proud self-life; seek the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Do not stop at the cross, or the grave; hasten to the upper room, where the disciples are baptized in fire and glory. The Holy Spirit will enable you to abide in Christ, because He will bring Christ to abide in you; and life, through His dear grace, shall be so utterly imbued with fellowship with the blessed Lord, that, whether present or absent, you will live together with Him. It is the man who is really filled with the Spirit of God who can follow Jesus, as Peter afterward did, to prison and to death, who can drink of the cup of which He drank, and be baptized with the baptism with which He was baptized.
"Why should I fear?" asked Basil, of the Roman prefect. "Nothing you have spoken of has any effect upon me. He that hath nothing to lose is not afraid of confiscation. You cannot banish me, for the earth is the Lord's. As to torture, the first stroke would kill me, and to kill me is to send me to glory."
"I go to prepare a place for you."—JOHN xiv. 2.
The cure for heart-trouble, when the future is full of dread, is faith—faith directed to Jesus; and just such faith as we give God, for He is God. He has shown Himself well worthy of that trust; all His paths toward us have been mercy and truth; and we may therefore safely rest upon His disclosures of that blessed life, of which the present is the vestibule. "Let not your heart be troubled," He says, "ye believe in God, believe also in Me." Or it might be rendered, "Believe in God, believe also in Me."
Let us listen to Him, as He discourses of the Father's house and its many mansions.
Heaven is a home.—"My Father's house." What magic power lies in that word! It will draw the wanderer from the ends of the earth; will nerve the sailor, soldier, and explorer with indomitable endurance; will bring a mist of tears to the eyes of the hardened criminal, and soften the heart of stone. One night in the trenches of the Crimea the bands played "Home, sweet Home," and a great sob went through the army.
But what makes home home? Not the mere locality or building; but the dear ones that lived there once, now scattered never to be reunited, only one or two of whom are still spared. It was father's house, though it was only a shepherd's shieling; he dwelt there, and mother, and our brothers and sisters. And where they dwell, or where wife and child dwell, there is home.
Such is Heaven. Think of a large family of noble children, of all ages, from the little child to the young man beginning his business career, returning after long severance to spend a season together in the old ancestral home, situated in its far-reaching grounds, and you can form some idea of what it will be, when the whole Family of the Redeemed gather in the Father's house. All reserve, all shyness, all restraint gone forever. God has given us all the memory of what home was, that we may guess at what awaits us, and be smitten with homesickness. As the German proverb puts it: "Blessed are the homesick, for they shall reach home."
Heaven is very spacious.—There are "many mansions." There is no stint in its accommodation. In the olden Temple there were spacious courts, long corridors, and innumerable chambers, in which a vast multitude could find a home day and night. The children trooped about and sang around their favorite teacher. The blind and lame sheltered themselves from heat or storm. The priests and Levites in great numbers lived there. All of this probably suggested the Master's words.
Heaven too will contain immense throngs, without being crowded. It will teem with innumerable hosts of angels, and multitudes of the redeemed which no man can number. Its children will be as the grains of sand that bar the ocean's waves, or the stars that begem the vault of night. But it can easily hold these, and myriads more. Yet there is room! As age after age has poured in its crowds, still the cry has gone forth, There is still room! The many mansions are not all tenanted. The orchestra is not full. The complement of priests is not complete.
Do not believe those little souls, who would make you believe that Heaven is a little place for a select few. If they come to you with that story, tell them to begone! tell them that they do not know your Father's heart; tell them that all He does must be worthy of Himself. Jesus shall see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied.
Heaven is full of variety.—It is not like one great hall; there are myriads of adjacent rooms, "mansions," which will be fitted up, so to speak, differently. One for the sweet singer, another for the little ones and their teachers, another for the student of the deep mysteries of the Kingdom, another for those who may need further instruction in the mysteries of God.
Heaven's life and scenery are as various as the aptitudes and capacities of souls. Its music is not a monotone, but a chorale. It is as a home, where the parents delight to develop the special tastes of their children. This is surely what Jesus meant when He said, "I go to prepare a place for you." He is ever studying our special idiosyncrasies—what we need most, and can do best; and when He has ascertained it, He suits our mansion accordingly.
When a gardener is about to receive some rare exotic, he prepares a place where it will flower and fruit to the best advantage. The naturalist who is notified of the shipment of some new specimen, prepares a habitat as suited as possible to its peculiarities. The mother, whose son is returning from sea, prepares a room in which his favorite books and pictures are carefully placed, and all else that her pondering heart can devise to give him pleasure. So our Lord is anxious to give what is best in us its most suitable nourishment and training. And He will keep our place against our coming. It will not suit another, and will not be given to another.
That all this will be so, is witnessed by the instincts of our hearts, and if it had not been so, He would have told us. That little clause is inimitably beautiful; it seems to teach that where He permits His children to cherish some natural presentiment of the blessed future—its solemn troops and sweet societies; its friendships, recognitions, and fellowships; its holy service, and special opportunities—that He really assents to our deepest and most cherished thoughts. If it had not been so, He would have told us.
The charm of Heaven will be the Lord's presence.—"Where I am, ye shall be also." We shall see His face, and be forever with Him. What would not men give, if some old manuscripts might turn up with new stories of His wondrous life, new parables as charming as those of the Good Shepherd and the Prodigal Son; new beatitudes; new discourses like that on the Vine. God might have permitted this. But what would it be in comparison with all that lies before! The past has lost much; but the future holds infinitely more. We shall see new Gospels enacted before our eyes, behold Christ as a real visible person in the glory of Divine manhood, hear Him speak to us as His friends, and shall know what He meant when He promised to gird Himself, and come forth to serve His servants.
If you are in doubt as to what Heaven is like, is it not enough to know that it will be in accord with the nature and presence and choice of Jesus Christ?
After His resurrection, He spent forty days among His disciples, that men might see what the risen life was like. As He was, and is, so shall we be. His body is the pattern in accordance to which this shall be fashioned. What He was to His friends after His resurrection, we shall be to ours, and they to us. We shall hear the familiar voices and the dear old names, shall resume the dear relationships which death severed, and shall speak again of the holy secrets of our hearts with those who were our twin-spirits.
And He will come again, either in our death hour or in His Second Advent, "to receive us" to Himself. If we only could believe this, and trust Him who says it, our hearts could not be troubled, though death itself menaced us; for we should realize, that to be received at the moment of dissolution by the hands of Jesus, into the place on which He has lavished time and thought and love, must be "far better" than the best that earth could offer.
The Reality of which Jacob's Dream was the Shadow
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me."—JOHN xiv. 6.
We all know more truth than we give ourselves credit for. A moment before the Lord had said, "Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know." Thomas, the pessimist—always inclined to look at the dark side of things—directly contradicted Him, saying, "Master, we are absolutely ignorant of the goal to which Thy steps are bending; it is impossible, therefore, for us to know the path that lies through the gloom, and by which Thou art to come to it." It was a strange collision, the Master's "Ye know," and Thomas's "We know not." Which was right?
There is no doubt that Jesus was right, and they did know. In many a discourse He had given sufficient materials for them to construct a true conception of the Father's house, and the way to it. These materials were lying in some dusty corner of their memory, unused, and Christ knew this. He said, therefore, in effect, "Go back to the teachings I have given you; look carefully through the inventory of your knowledge; let your instincts, illumined by My words, supply the information you need: there are torches in your souls already lighted, that will cast a radiant glow upon the mysteries to the brink of which you have come."
This is true of us all. Christ never conducts to experiences for which He has not previously prepared us. As the great ocean-steamers take in their stores of coal and provision, day and night, for weeks previous to their sailing; so, by insensible influences, Christ is ever anticipating the strain and stress of coming circumstance, passing in words which are spirit and life, though they may stand in their heavy packing-cases in the hold, until we are driven to unpack, examine, and use their contents. Not unseldom sorrow is sent for no other purpose than to compel us to take cognizance of our possessions. Many a fabric of manufacture, many an article of diet, many an ingenious process has been suggested in days of scarcity and famine. So, old words and truths come back in our sore need. Christ often speaks to us, as a teacher to a nervous child, saying, "You know quite well, if you would only think a little." More truth is stored in memory than recollection can readily lay hands upon.
Thomas persisted in his protestations of ignorance, and so the Lord uttered for his further information the royal sentence, which sums up Christianity in the one simple pronoun "I." It was as if He said to His disciples gathered there, and to His Church in all ages, "To have Me, to know Me, to love and obey Me, this is religion; this is the light for every dark hour, the solution for all the mysteries." Christianity is more than a creed, a doctrinal system, a code of rules—it is Christ.
I. CHRIST, AS THE WAY.—"I am the Way," said our Lord. The conception of life as a pilgrimage is as old as human speech. On the third page of our Bibles we are told that "Enoch walked with God." The path of the Israelites through the desert was a pilgrim's progress, and the enduring metaphor for our passage from the cross to the Sabbath-keeping. Isaiah anticipated the rearing up of a highway which should be called the way of holiness, which should not be trodden by the unclean; no lion should be there, or ravenous beast go up thereon; but the ransomed of the Lord should walk there, and go with singing to Zion. But in the furthest flights of inspired imagination, the prophet never dreamed that God Himself would stoop to become the trodden path to Himself, and that the way of holiness was no other than that Divine Servant who so often stood before Him for portrayal. "I am the way," said Christ.
He fulfills all the conditions of Isaiah's prediction.
He saw a highway. A highway is for all: for kings and commoners; for the nobleman daintily picking his way, and the beggar painfully plodding with bare feet. And Jesus is for every man. "Whosoever will, let him come"; let him step out and walk; let him commit himself to Him who comes to our doors that He may conduct us to the pearly gate.
It was a way of holiness, where no unclean or leprous person was permitted to travel. Neither can we avail ourselves of the gracious help of Christ, so long as we are harboring what He disapproves, or doing what He forbids.
It was so plain and straight, that wayfaring men though fools could not mistake it. And the Master said, that whilst the wise and prudent might miss His salvation, babes would find it. "Hidden from the wise and prudent, but revealed to babes."
It afforded perfect immunity from harm. The wild beasts of the forest might roar around it, but they were kept off that thoroughfare by an invisible and impassable fence. Who is he that can harm us whilst we follow that which is good? The special Divine permission was necessary, before Satan could tempt Job, whose heart was perfect with his God.
It was trodden with song. And who can describe the waves of joy that sometimes roll in on the believing, loving soul. There is always peace, but sometimes there is joy unspeakable and full of glory. The hands of Jesus shed the oil of gladness on our heads, whilst the lamentation and regret that haunt the lives of others are abashed, as the spectres of the night before the roseate touch of morn.
What further thought did Christ mean to convey, when He said, "I am the Way"? We cannot see the other side of the moon. The full import of these words, as they touch His wonderful nature, as it lies between Him and His Father, is beyond us; but we may at least study the face they turn toward our lives.
The true value of a way is never realized until we are following it through an unknown country, or groping along it in almost absolute darkness. I remember, during a tour in Switzerland, on starting for a long day's march, the comfort of the assurance that I had only to keep to one road which was clearly defined, and it would inevitably bring me to my destination. How different this to another experience of making my way, as I might, across the hillsides in the direction which I fancied was the right one! All that had to be done in the first instance was to follow the roadway, to obey its sinuous windings, to climb the hills where it climbed, to descend the valleys where it descended, to cross the rivers and torrents at the precise point with it. It seemed responsible for me as long as I kept to it. Whenever I thought to better myself by wandering right or left, I found myself landed in some difficulty, and when I returned to it, it seemed to say, "Why did you leave me? I know that sometimes I am rough and difficult; but I can do better for you, than you can for yourself, and indeed I am the only possible way. Obey me, and I will bring you home." It is so that Christ speaks to us.
Each day, as we leave our home, we know that the prepared path lies before us, in the good works which God has prepared for us to walk in. And when we are ignorant of their direction, and are at a loss as to where to place our steps, we have only to concern ourselves with Christ, and almost unconsciously we shall find ourselves making progress on the destined way. Christ is the Way: love Christ, trust Christ, obey Christ, be concerned with Christ, and all else will be added. Christ is the Way. When the heart is wrapped up in Him, it is on the way, and it is making progress, although it never counts the rate or distance, so occupied is it with Him.
"I fear I make no progress," sighs the timid soul.
"But what is Christ to thee?"
"Then if He be all in all to thee, thou art most certainly on God's way; and thou art making progress toward thy home, albeit that it is unconsciously. Be of good cheer, Christ is the Way; remember the ancient pilgrims, of whom it is written, that the way was in their hearts."
"But God the Father is so little to me!"
"But to deal with Christ is to deal with God: to be wrapped up in the love of Christ is to make ever deeper discoveries into the heart of God. He is the Way to God: to know Him is to come to the Father."
II. CHRIST AS THE TRUTH.—The thought grows deeper as we advance. Obedience to the Way conducts to the vision of the Truth; ethics to spiritual optics. The truth-seeker must first submit himself in all humility and obedience to Christ; and when he is willing to do His will, he is permitted to know.
(1) Christ is more than a teacher. "We know that Thou art a Teacher, come from God," said Nicodemus. He is more, He is the Truth of God. All truth is ensphered in Him. All the mysteries of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him. We fully know truth only as it is in Jesus. When the Spirit of Truth would lead us into all truth, He can do nothing better than take of the things of Christ, and reveal them to us, because to know Christ is to know the Truth in its most complete, most convenient, and most accessible form. If you know nothing else, and know Christ intimately and fully, you will know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free. If you love truth, and are a child of the truth, you will be inevitably attracted to Christ, and recognize the truth that speaks through His glorious nature. "He that is of the truth heareth My voice."
(2) Distinguish between Christ the Truth, and truth about Him. Many true things may be said about Him; but we are not saved by truths about Him, but by Himself the Truth.
Not the indubitable fact that Jesus died; but the Person of Him who died and lives forevermore.
Not the certain fact that Jesus lay in the grave; but the blessed Man Himself, who lay there for me.
Not the incontestable facts of His resurrection and ascension; but that He has borne my nature to the midst of the throne, and has achieved a victory which helps me in my daily struggle.
This is the ground basis of all true saving faith. The soul may accept truths about Christ, as it would any well-authenticated historical fact; but it is not materially benefited or saved until it has come to rest on the bosom of Him of whom these facts are recorded.
(3) To know Christ as Truth demands truth in heart and life. The insincere man; the trifler; the flippant jester who takes nothing seriously; the superficial man who uses the deepest expressions, as counters for society talk; the inconsistent man who is daily doing violence to his convictions, by permitting things which his conscience condemns—must stand forever on the outskirts of the Temple of Truth: they have no right to stand before the King of Truth. If you have never discerned the truth as it is in Jesus, it becomes a serious question whether you are perfectly true, or whether you are not, like Pilate, harboring insincerity in your heart, which blinds your eyes to His ineffable attributes.
(4) Concern yourself with Christ. Be content to let the world and its wisdom alone. "The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God . . . He taketh the wise in their own craftiness." Give yourself to know Christ, who is made unto us wisdom, as well as sanctification and redemption. To know Him is to be at the fountain-head of all truth; and the soul which has dwelt with Him by day and night will find itself, not only inspired by an undying love for the true, but will be able to hold fellowship with truth-lovers and truth-seekers everywhere; nay, will be able even to instruct those who have the reputation of great learning and knowledge in the schools of human thought. "I have more understanding than all my teachers; for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have kept Thy precepts." To know and to possess Christ, is to have the Word, that is the Wisdom of God, enshrined as a most sacred possession in the heart.
III. CHRIST AS THE LIFE.—It is not enough to know; we need life. Life is, indeed, the gate to knowledge. "This is life eternal that they should know Thee." It was imperative, therefore, that Jesus should become a source of life to men, that they might know the Truth, and be able to walk in the Way, and more especially since death had infected and exhausted all the springs of the world's vitality.
It was into a world of death that the Son of God came. The spring of life in our first parents had become tainted at its source. At the best Adam was only a living soul. Dead—dead—dead in trespasses and sins; such was the Divine verdict, such the course of this world. Earth resembled the valley in the prophet's vision, full of bones, very many and very dry. All the reservoirs of life were spent; its fountains had died away in wastes of sand.
Then the Son of God brought life from the eternal throne, from God Himself; and became a Life-giving Spirit. His words were spirit and life: He was Himself the Resurrection and the Life: those that believed in Him became partakers of the Divine Nature. The tree of life was again planted on the earth's soil, when Jesus became incarnate. "I give eternal life unto My sheep," He said, "and they shall never perish." "He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life."
If, then, you are wanting life, and life more abundantly, you must have Christ. Do not seek it, but Him: not the stream but the fountain; not the word, but the speaker; not the fruit, but the tree. He is the Life and Light of men.
And if you have Christ you have life. You may not be competent to define or analyze it; you may not be able to specify the place or time, when it first broke into your soul; you may hardly be able to distinguish it from the workings of your own life: but if you have Christ, trust Christ, desire Christ above all, you have the Life. "He that hath the Son hath the Life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the Life." "We know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true . . . this is eternal life." "I," said Jesus, "am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."
Christ Revealing the Father
"Philip saith unto Him, Lord, shew us the Father and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father."—JOHN xiv. 8, 9.
The longing of the universal heart of man was voiced by Philip, when he broke in, rather abruptly, on our Lord's discourse with the challenge that He should answer all questions, dissipate all doubt, by showing them the Father. Is there a God? how can I be sure that He is? what does He feel toward us?—these are questions which men persistently ask, and wait for the reply. And the Master gave the only satisfactory answer that has ever been uttered in the hearing of mankind, when He said in effect, "The knowledge of God must be conveyed, not in words or books, in symbols or types, but in a life. To know Me, to believe in Me, to come into contact with Me, is to know the deepest heart of God. 'He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?'"
I. PHILIP'S INQUIRY.—It bore witness to the possible growth of the human soul. Only three short years before, as we are told in the first chapter of this Gospel, Christ had found him. At that time he was probably much as the young men of his age and standing. Not specially remarkable save for an interest in, and an earnestness about, the advent of the Messiah; his views, however, of his person and work were limited and narrow: he looked for his advent as the time for the reestablishment of the kingdom of David, and deliverance from the Roman yoke. But three years of fellowship with Jesus had made a wonderful difference in this young disciple. The deepest mysteries of life and death and heaven seemed within his reach. He is not now content with beholding the Messiah, he is eager to know the Father, and to stand within the inner circle of His presence-chamber.
The highest watermark ever touched by the great soul of Moses was when he said, amid the sublimities of Sinai, "I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory." But in this aspiration Philip stands beside him. There is a close kinship between the mighty lawgiver and the fishermen of Bethsaida. How little there is to choose between, "Show me Thy glory," and "Show us the Father." Great and marvellous is the capacity of the soul for growth!
It truly interpreted the need of man.—"It sufficeth us." From nature, with all her voices that speak of God's power and Godhead; from the page of history, indented with the print of God's footprints; from type and ceremony and temple, though instituted by God Himself; even from the unrivalled beauty of our Saviour's earthly life—these men turned unsatisfied, unfilled, and said, "We are not yet content, but if Thou wouldest show us the Father, we should be."
And would it not suffice us?—Would it not be sufficient to give new zest and reality to prayer, if we could realize that it might be as familiar as the talk of home, or like the petitioning of a little child? Would it not suffice to make the most irksome work pleasant, if we could look up and discern the Father's good pleasure and smile of approval? Would it not suffice to rob pain of its sting, if we could detect the Father's hands adjusting the heat of the furnace? Would it not suffice to shed a light across the dark mystery of death, if we felt that the Father was waiting to lead us through the shadows to Himself? How often the cry rises from sad and almost despairing hearts, "Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us."
But surely this request was based on a mistake.—Philip wanted a visible theophany, like that which Moses beheld, when the majestic procession swept down the mountain pass; or as the elders saw, when they beheld the paved sapphire work; or after the fashion of the visions vouchsafed to Elijah, Isaiah, or Ezekiel. He wanted to see the Father. But how can you make wisdom, or love, or purity visible, save in a human life?
Yet this is the mistake we are all liable to make. We feel that there must be an experience, a vision, a burst of light, a sensible manifestation, before we can know the Father. We strain after some unique and extraordinary presentation of the Deity, especially in the aspect of Fatherhood, before we can be completely satisfied, and thus we miss the lesson of the present hour. Philip was so absorbed in his quest for the transcendent and sublime, that he missed the revelations of the Father which for three years had been passing under his eyes. God had been manifesting His tenderest and most characteristic attributes by the beauty of the Master's life, but Philip had failed to discern them; till now the Master bids him go back on the photographs of those years, as fixed in his memory, to see in a thousand tiny illustrations how truly the Father dwelt in Him, and lived through His every word and work.
Are you straining after the vision of God, startled by every footstep, intently listening till the very atmosphere shall become audible, expecting an overwhelming spectacle? In all likelihood you will miss all. The kingdom comes not with outward show. When men expected Christ to come by the front door, He stole in at the back. Whilst Philip was waiting for the Father to be shown in thunder and lightning, in startling splendor, in the stately majesty that might become the Highest, he missed the daily unfolding of the Divine Nature that was being afforded in the Life with which he dwelt in daily contact.
Philip's request emphasized the urgent need of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.—"If ye had known Me". . . the Saviour said. "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me?" They failed to know the Father, because they failed to know Christ, and they failed in this because they knew Him only after the flesh. They were so familiar with Him as their Friend, His love was so natural, tender, and human, He had become so closely identified with all their daily existence, that they did not recognize the fire that shone behind the porcelain, the Deity that tabernacled beneath the frail curtains.
Often those who dwell amid the loveliest or grandest scenery miss the beauty which is unveiled to strangers from a distance. Certain lives have to be withdrawn from us before we understand how fair they were, and how much to us. And Jesus had to leave His disciples before they could properly appreciate Him. The Holy Spirit must needs take of the things of Christ, and reveal them, before they could realize their true significance, symmetry, and beauty.
Two things are needful, then: first, we must know Christ through the teaching of the Holy Ghost; and next, we must receive Him into our hearts, that we may know Him, as we know the workings of our own hearts. Each knows himself, and could recognize the mint-mark of his own individuality; so when Christ has become resident within us, and has taken the place of our self-life, we know Him as we know ourselves. "What man knoweth the things of man save the spirit of man which is in him?—but we have the mind of Christ?"
II. THE LORD'S REPLY.—"He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father."
He did not rebuke the request, as unfit to proffer, or impossible to satisfy. He took it for granted that such a desire would exist in the heart, and that His disciples would always want to be led by Him into the Father's presence. In this His ministry resembled that of the great forerunner, who led His disciples into the presence of the Bridegroom, content to decrease if only He might increase. The Master's answer was, however, widely different from John's. The forerunner pointed to Jesus as He walked, and said, "Behold the Lamb of God"; Jesus pointed to Himself, and said, "I and My Father are One; to have seen Me is to have seen the Father; to have Me is to possess the Father."
It troubled the Lord greatly that He had been so long time with them, and yet they had not known Him; that they had not realized the source of His words and works; that they had concentrated their thought on Him, instead of passing, as He meant them to do, from the stream to the source, from the die to the seal, from the beam of the Divine Glory to its Sun. He bade them, therefore, from that moment realize that they knew and had seen the Father in knowing and seeing Himself. Not more surely had the Shechinah dwelt in the tabernacle of old, than did it indwell His nature, though too thickly shrouded to be seen by ordinary and casual eyes.
Let us get help from this. Many complain that they know Christ, pray to Christ, are conscious of Christ, but that the Father is far away and impalpable. They are therefore straining after some new vision or experience of God, and undervaluing the religious life to which they have already attained. It is a profound mistake. To have Jesus is to have God; to know Jesus is to know God; to pray to Jesus is to pray to God. Jesus is God manifest in the flesh. Look up to Him even now from this printed page, and say, "My Lord and my God."
Jesus is not simply an incarnation of God in the sense in which, after the fashion of the Greek mythology, gods might come down in the likeness of men, adopting a disguise which they would afterward cast aside; Jesus is God. All the gentle attributes of His nature are God's; and all the strong and awful attributes of power, justice, purity, which we are wont to associate with God, are His also.
Happy is the moment when we awake to realize that in Jesus we have God manifest and present; to know this is the revelation of the Father by the Son, of which our Saviour spoke in Matt. xi. 27.
III. A GLIMPSE INTO THE LORD'S INNER LIFE.—This Gospel is the most lucid and profound treatise in existence on His inner life. It is the revelation of the principles on which our Saviour lived.
So absolutely had He emptied Himself that He never spake His own words: "The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of Myself." He never did His own works: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. . . . The Father abiding in Me doeth His works." This was the result of that marvellous self-emptying of which the Apostle speaks. Our Lord speaks as though, in His human nature, He had a choice and will of His own. "Not My will, but Thine be done," was His prayer. Perhaps it was to this holy and divine personality that Satan made appeal in the first temptation, bidding Him use His powers for the satisfaction of His hunger, and in independence of His Father's appointment. But however much of this independence was within our Lord's reach, He deliberately laid it aside. Before He spoke, His spirit opened itself to the Father, that He might speak by His lips; before He acted. He stilled the promptings of His own wisdom, and lifted Himself into the presence of the Father, to ascertain what He was doing, and to receive the inflow of His energy (John v. 19; xii. 44, 49).
These are great mysteries, which will engage our further consideration. In the meanwhile, let us reason that if our Lord was so careful to subordinate Himself to the Father that He might be all in all, it well becomes us to restrain ourselves, to abstain from speaking our own words or doing our own works, that Jesus may pour His energies through our being, and that those searching words may be fulfilled in us also, "Striving according to His working, which worketh in Me mightily."
The Great Deeds of Prayer
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto My Father."—JOHN xiv. 12.
Whenever our Lord was about to say something usually important, He introduced it by the significant expression, "Verily, verily"; or, as it is in the original, "Amen, amen, I say unto you." The words well become His lips, who in the Book of Revelation is called "the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness." They are really our Lord's most solemn affirmation of the truth of what He was about to utter, as well as an indication that something of importance is about to be revealed.
Indeed, it was necessary in the present case that the marvellous announcement of the text should receive unusual confirmation, because of its wide extent. If our Lord had ascribed this power of doing greater works than Himself in His earthly life, to apostle, prophet, or illustrious saint, we should have required no special assurance of its deliberate truth; but to learn that powers so transcendent are within the reach of any ordinary believer, to learn that any one who believes may outdo the miracles on the outskirts of Nain, and at the tomb of Bethany, is as startling as it is comforting. There is no reason why the humblest soul that ponders this page should not become the medium and vehicle through which the Christ of the glory shall not surpass the Christ of Galilee, Jerusalem, and Judea.
The best method of treating these words is to take them clause by clause as they stand.
I. THE FIRST NOTE IS FAITH.—"He that believeth on Me." Three varieties of faith are alluded to in the context. Faith in His works: "Believe the works." Faith in His words: "Believe Me." Faith in Himself, as here. In the Greek the preposition translated in, would be better rendered into, as though the believer was ever approaching the heart of Christ in deeper, warmer, closer fellowship; perpetual motion toward, combined with unbroken rest in. Each of these three forms of faith plays an important part in the Christian life.
Arrested by the works of Christ—His irresistible power over nature, His tender pity for those who sought His aid, the blessed and far-reaching results of His miracles—we cry with Nicodemus, "Verily, this is a Teacher come from God; for none can do such miracles, except God be with him." The Master perpetually appealed to the witness borne by His works to His Divine mission, as when He said, "If I had not done among them the works which none other did, they had not had sin, but now have they both seen and hated both Me and My Father." And again, "The very works that I do bear witness of Me." But at the best the works of Christ are only like the great bell ringing in the church-tower calling attention to the life being unfolded within, and are not calculated to induce the faith to which the greater works are possible.
Next we come to the words of Christ. They are spirit and life: they greatly feed the soul. He speaks as none other has ever spoken of the mysteries of life, death, God, and eternity. It is through the words that we come to the Speaker. By feeding on them we are led into vital union with Himself. But His words, as such, and apart from Him, will not produce works that shall surpass those He wrought in His earthly ministry.
Therefore from works and words we come to the Lord Himself with a trust which passes up beyond the lower ranges of faith; which does not simply receive what He waits to give, or reckon upon His faithfulness, but which unites us in indissoluble union with Himself. This is the highest function of faith; it is unitive: it welds us in living union with our Lord, so that we are one with Him, as He is one with God.
We are in Him in the Divine purpose which chose us in Him before the foundation of the world; grafted into Him in His cross; partaking of a common life with Him through the regeneration of the Holy Ghost. But all these become operative in the union wrought by a living faith; so that the strongest assertions which Jesus made of the close relationship between His Father and Himself become the current coin of holy speech, as they precisely describe the union which subsists between us and Jesus. The living Saviour has sent us, and we live by the Saviour. The words we speak are not from ourselves, but the Saviour within us, He doeth His works. We are in Him and He in us, all ours are His, and His ours.
Stay, reader, and ask thyself whether thou hast this faith which incorporates thee with the Man who died for thee on the cross, and now occupies the Throne, the last Adam who has become a life-giving Spirit.
II. A TRUE FAITH ALWAYS WORKS.—"He that believeth in Me, the works that I do shall He do also."
There are many counterfeits of faith in the world. Electroplate! veneer! They will inevitably fail in the last supreme test, if not before. James especially calls attention to the distinction between a living and a dead faith. It becomes us to be on our guard.
The test of genuine faith are twofold. In the first place, a genuine, living faith has Christ for its object. The hand may tremble, but it touches His garment's hem; the eye may be dimmed by doubt, but it is directed toward His face; the feet may stumble, but as the fainting pilgrim staggers onward, this is his repeated cry, "Thou, O Christ, art all I want."
In the second place, a true faith works. Its works approve its nature, and show that it has reached the heart of Christ, and becomes the channel through which His life-forces pour into the soul. Jacob knew that Joseph was alive and that his sons had opened communications with him, because of the wagons that he sent; and we may know that Jesus lives beyond the mist of time, and that our faith has genuinely connected us with Him, because we feel the pulse of His glorious nature within our own. And when this is so, we cannot but work out what He is working within.
Ask me why a true faith must work! Ask why the branch can do no other than bear clusters of ruddy grapes; its difficulty would be to abstain from bearing; the vitality of the root accounts for its life and productiveness. Blame the lark, whose nature vibrates in the sunshine, for pouring from its small throat acres of sound; blame the child, full of bounding health, for laughing, singing, and leaping; blame the musician, whose soul has caught some fragments of the music of eternity, for pouring it forth in song, before you wonder why it is that the true faith which has opened the way from the believer to his Lord produces those greater works.
III. THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF WORK INDICATED.—(1) "The works that I do shall he do also."—What a blessing Christ's ministry must have been to thousands of sufferers! He passed through Galilee as a river of water of life. In front of Him were deserts of fever blasted by the sirocco, and malarious swamps of ague and palsy, and the mirage of the sufferer's deferred hope; but after He had passed, the parched ground became a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water, the eyes of the blind were opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame man leaped as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sang.
How glad the sick of any district must have been when it was rumored that He was on His way to it! What eager consultations must have been held as to the best means of conveying them into His presence! What sleepless nights must have been spent of speculation as to whether, and how, He would heal!
Such results followed the labors of the apostles. The lame man at the beautiful gate of the Temple; the palsied Aeneas; the dead Dorcas; the crowds in the streets over-shadowed by Peter's passing figure; the miracles wrought by Paul at Paphos, Lystra, Philippi, and Malta—all attested the truth of the Master's words, "The works that I do shall ye do also." There is no doubt that, if it were necessary, such miracles might be repeated, if only the Church exercised the same faith as in those early days of her ministry to the world. But there are greater works than these.
(2) "Greater works than these shall ye do."—The soul is greater than the body, as the jewel than the casket. All work, therefore, which produces as great an effect on the soul-life as miracles on the physical life, must be proportionately greater, as the tenant is greater than the house, as the immortal than the mortal. It is a greater work to give sight to the blind soul than to the blind body; to raise the soul from its grave than Lazarus from his four days' sleep.
Again, eternity is also greater than time, as the ocean is greater than a creek. The ills from which the miracles of Christ delivered the suppliant crowds, were at the most limited by years. The flesh of the leper became wrinkled with old age; Jairus' daughter fell again on sleep; the generation which had been benefited by the mighty works, passed away without handing on a legacy of health to succeeding time! But if a sinner is turned from the error of his ways, if salvation comes to a nature destined for immortality, and lifts it from the slough of sin to the light of God, the results must be greater because more permanent and far-reaching.
Moreover, the pain from which the word of the Gospel may save, is infinitely greater than that which disease could inflict. Men have been known to brave any physical torture rather than endure the insupportable anguish of a sin-laden conscience. The worm that never dies is more intolerable than cancer; the fire that is never quenched keener than that of fever. To save a soul from these is, therefore, a greater work.
Christ hinted at this distinction in one of His earliest miracles, when He proposed to forgive the sick of the palsy his sins, before bidding him walk; and bade the seventy rejoice more that their names were written in heaven than that the devils were subject to them. The apostles bear witness to a growing appreciation of this distinction, by the small space given in the Acts of the Apostles to their miracles, compared with the greater attention concentrated on their discourses; and surely the history of Christendom bears witness to the great and permanent character of spiritual work. The Church could not have influenced the world as she has done, had she been nothing more than a healer of diseases and an exorciser of demons.
IV. THE SOURCE OF THESE GREATER WORKS.—"Because I go to the Father." Clearly the Church has had an argument to present to men which even her Master could not use. He could not point, except indefinitely, to the cross, its flowing blood, its testimony to a love which the cold waters of death could not staunch. Through the ages this has been the master-motive, the supreme argument.
Then, again, the Master could not count upon the cooeperation of the Spirit in His convicting power, as we can. "When He is come, He will convict the world of sin"; but He did not come till after that brief career of public ministry had closed. Speaking reverently, we may say that the Church has an Ally that even her Master had not.
But the main reason is yet to come. Perhaps an illustration will best explain it. Supposing the great painter, Raphael, were to infuse his transcendent power, as he possessed it during his mortal life, into some young brain, there is no reason why the genius of the immortal painter should not effect, through a mere tyro in art, results in form and color as marvellous as those which he bequeathed to coming time. But suppose, further, that after having been three hundred years amid the tones, forms, and colors of the heavenly world, he could return, and express his thoughts and conceptions through some human medium, would not these later productions be greater works than those which men cherish as a priceless legacy? So if the Lord were to work in us such works only as He did before He ascended to His glory, they would be inferior to those which He can produce now that He has entered into His glorified state, and has reassumed the power of which He emptied Himself when He stooped to become incarnate. This is what He meant when He said, "Because I go unto the Father."
Open your hearts to the living, risen, glorified Saviour. Let Him live freely in your life, and work unhindered through your faith; expect Him to pour through you as a channel some of those greater works which must characterize the closing years of the present age. Remember how the discourses and miracles of His earthly life even increased in importance and meaning; for such must be the law of His ministry in the heavenlies. According to our faith it will be unto us. The results which we see around us are no measure of what Christ would or could do, they indicate the straitening effect of our unbelief. Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye low-browed doors of unbelief; and the King of Glory shall come in with His bright and mighty retinue, and shall go out through human lives to do greater works by the instrumentality of His people than ever He wrought in the course of His earthly ministry.
How to Secure More and Better Prayer
"And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever."—JOHN xiv. 16.
The great lack of our life is that we do not pray more. And there is no failure so disastrous or criminal as this. It is very difficult to account for it. If in all times of discouragement and vicissitude we could have access to one of the wisest and noblest of our fellow creatures, or to some venerated departed saint, or to the guardian angel deputed to attend our steps, or to the archangel that presides as vicegerent over this system of worlds, how strong and brave we should become! Whatever our need, we would at once seek His august presence, and obtain His counsel and assistance. How extraordinary is our behavior then with respect to prayer, and that we make so little of our opportunities of access into the presence of our Father, in whom wisdom, power, and love blend perfectly, and who is always willing to hear us—nay, is perpetually urging us to come!
The reason may lie in the very commonness of our opportunities. The swing-door of prayer stands always waiting for the least touch of faith to press it back. If our Father's presence-chamber were opened to us only once a year, with how much greater reverence would we enter it, how much more store would we set on it! We should anticipate the honor and privilege of that interview for the whole year, and eagerly avail ourselves of it. Alas, that familiarity with prayer does not always increase our appreciation of its magnificence!
The cause of our apathy is probably also to be sought in the effort which is required to bring our sensuous and earth-bound natures into true union with the Spirit of God. True prayer is labor. Epaphras labored in his intercessions. Our feet shrink from the steep pathway that climbs those heights; our lungs do not readily accustom themselves to the rare air that breathes around the summit of the Mount of Communion.
But there is a deeper reason yet: we have not fully learned or obeyed the laws and conditions of prayer. Until they are apprehended and complied with, it is not possible for us to pray as we might. They are not, however, very recondite. The least advanced in the Divine school may read them on this page, where Christ unbares the deepest philosophy of devotion in the simplest phrases.
It is evident that He expected that the age which Pentecost was to inaugurate, and to which He so frequently refers as "in that day," would in a special sense be the Age of Prayer. Mark how frequently in this last discourse He refers to it—(xiv. 13, 14; xv. 7, 16; xvi. 24, 26). Clearly the infilling of the Holy Spirit has a special bearing on the prayerfulness of the individual and the Church. But this will unfold as we proceed.
I. THE PRAYING CHRIST.—"I will pray the Father." It is true that He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, because He had completed the work for which He became man. That session indicated a finished atonement. As the Father rested from the work of creation, so the Son entered into His rest, having ceased from the work of redemption, so far as it could be effected in His death, resurrection, and ascension. But as in His rest the Father worked in Providence, sustaining that which He had created, so did the Saviour continue to work after He had entered into His Sabbath-keeping.
We have already dealt with one branch of His twofold activity, in His work through those who believe. The greater works which the risen Saviour has been, and is, achieving through His people bear witness to the perpetual energy streaming from His life in the azure depths. "The apostles," Mark tells us, "went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming their word with signs following."
The other branch of His twofold ministry is His intercession on our behalf. He says, "I will pray the Father" for you.
(1) What a contrast to the assertions which we have already pondered of His oneness with the Father, and to His assurance in almost the same breath that He would Himself answer His people's prayers! It is inexplicable, save on the hypothesis that He has a dual nature, by virtue of which, on the one hand, He is God, who answers prayer, and on the other the Son of Man, who pleads as the Head and Representative of a redeemed race.
(2) It is, however, in harmony with Old Testament symbolism. The High Priest often entered the Presence of God with the names of the people on his breast, the seat of love, and on his shoulder, the seat of power; and once a year, with a bowl of blood and sprig of thyme in his hands, pleaded for the entire nation. What more vivid portrayal could there be of the ceaseless intercession of that High Priest who was once manifested to bear the sin of many, and who now appears in the presence of God for us.
(3) In the days of His flesh, He pleaded for His Church, as in the sublime intercessory prayer of chapter xvii.; for individuals, as when He said, "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee"; and for the world, as when He first assumed His High-priestly functions, saying from His cross, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do." Thus He pleads still. For Zion's sake He does not hold His peace, and for Jerusalem's sake He does not rest. For His Church, for individual believers, for thee and me, He says in heaven, as on earth, "Father, I pray for them." Perennially from His lips pours out a stream of tender supplication and entreaty. This is the river that makes glad the city of God. Anticipating coming trial; interposing when the cobra-coil is beginning to encircle us; pitying us when the sky is overcast and lowering; not tiring or ceasing, though we are heedless and unthankful; He pleads on the mountain brow through the dark hours, whilst we sleep.
(4) These intercessions are further stimulated by our love and obedience. "If ye love Me, keep My commandments, and I will pray the Father." He looks on us, and where love is yearning to love more fully, and obedience falters in its high endeavors, He prays yet more eagerly, that grace may be given us to be what we long to be. He prays for those who do not pray for themselves; but He is even more intent on the perfecting of those who are the objects of His special interest, because of their loyalty and love—"I pray for them; I pray not for the world."
(5) His special petition is that we may receive the gift of Pentecost. "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter." It would almost seem as though He spent the mysterious ten days between His ascension and Pentecost in special intercession that His Church might be endued with power from on high. The pleading Church on earth and the pleading Saviour in heaven were at one. The two voices agreed in perfect symphony, and Pentecost was the Father's answer. The Saviour prayed to the Father, and He gave another Comforter. Nor has He ceased in this sublime quest. It is not improbable that every revival of religion, every fresh and deeper baptism of the Spirit, every new infilling of individual souls, has been due to our Saviour's strong cryings on our behalf. It may be that at this hour He is engaged in asking the Father that He would dower the universal Church with another Pentecost; and if so, let us join Him in the prayer.
II. THE PRAYING CHURCH.—"Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name."
(1) Prayer must be addressed to the Father. As soon as we utter that sacred name, the Divine nature responds; and, to put it vividly, is on the alert to hear what we desire. A little child cannot utter a sigh however slight, a sob however smothered, without awakening the quick attention of its mother; and at the first whisper of our Father's name, He is at hand to hear and bless. Alas! we have too often grieved His Holy Spirit by a string of selfish petitions, or a number of formal platitudes! To the wonderment of angels, we thus fritter away the most precious and sacred opportunities. Be still, then, before you pray, to consider what to ask; order your prayers for presentation: and be sure to begin the blessed interview with words of sincere and loving appreciation and devotion.
(2) The conditions of successful prayer are clearly defined in these words. There must be love to Christ and to all men; obedience to His will, so far as it is revealed; recognition of His mediation and intercession, as alone giving us the right to draw nigh; identification with Him, so as to be able to use His name; passionate desires for the Father's glory. Where these five conditions exist, there can be no doubt as to our receiving the petitions which we offer. Prayer that complies with them cannot fail, since it is only the return tide of an impulse which has emanated from the heart of God.