Quiet Talks on Following the Christ
By S. D. Gordon
Author of "Quiet Talks On Power," "Quiet Talks on Prayer," "Quiet Talks On Our Lord's Return," etc.
New York Chicago Toronto Fleming H. Revell Company London and Edinburgh
Copyright, 1913, by Fleming H. Revell Company
New York: 158 Fifth Avenue Chicago: 17 North Wabash Ave. Toronto: 25 Richmond Street, W. London: 21 Paternoster Square Edinburgh: 100 Princes Street
I. The Lone Man Who Went Before II. The Long, Rough Road He Trod III. The Pleading Call To Follow IV. What Following Means 1. A Look Ahead 2. The Main Road 3. The Valleys 4. The Hilltops V. Shall We Go? VI. Finger-Posts VII. Fellow-Followers VIII. The Glory of the Goal,—face To Face
These talks have been given, in substance, at various gatherings in Great Britain, Continental Europe, and parts of the Far East, during the past four years. The simple directness of the spoken word has been allowed to stand. Portions of chapters three, four, six, and eight have appeared at various times in "The Sunday School Times."
If any who read may find some practical help through the Master's gracious touch upon these simple words, they are earnestly asked to add their prayers that that same gracious touch may be felt by others wherever these talks may go.
The Lone Man Who Went Before
A Call to Friendship.
One day I watched two young men, a Japanese and an American, pacing the deck of a Japanese liner bound for San Francisco. Their heads were close together and bent down, and they were talking earnestly. The Japanese was saying, "Oh, yes, I believe all that as a theory, but is there power to make a man live it?"
He was an officer of the ship, one of the finest boats on the Pacific. The American was a young fellow who had gone out to Japan as a government teacher, and when his earnest sort of Christianity led to his dismissal he remained, and still remains, as a volunteer missionary. With his rare gift in personal touch he had won the young officer's confidence, and was explaining what Christianity stood for, when the Japanese politely interrupted him with his question about power. The tense eagerness of his manner and voice let one see the hunger of his heart. He had high ideals of life, but confessed that every time he was in port, the shore temptations proved too much, and he always came back on board with a feeling of bitter defeat. He had read about Christianity and believed it good in theory. But he knew nothing of its power.
Through his new American friend he came into personal touch with Christ, then and there. And up to the day we docked he put in his spare time bringing other Japanese to his friend's stateroom, and there more than one of them knelt, and came into warm touch of heart with the Lord Jesus.
Just so our Lord Jesus draws men, Oriental and Occidental alike. Just so He drew men when He was down here. He had great drawing power. Men came eagerly wherever they could find Him.
He drew all sorts of men. He drew the Jews, to whom He belonged racially. He drew the aggressive, domineering Romans, and the gentler cultured Greeks. He drew the half-breed Samaritans, who were despised by both Jew and foreigner, as not being either one thing or the other. The military men and the civilians, the cultured and the unlettered, the official class and those in private life, all alike felt the strong pull upon their hearts of His presence.
The pure of heart, like gentle Mary of Bethany, and the guileless Nathanael, were drawn to Him. And the very opposite, those openly bad in their life, couldn't resist His presence, and the call away from their low, bad level, but eagerly took His hand and came up. Fisherfolk and farmers, dwellers in the city and country, scholars and tradesmen, crude and refined, richly clad and ragged,—all sorts contentedly rubbed elbows and jostled each other in the crowds that came to listen, and stayed to listen longer, and then went away to come back again for more.
This was why He came—to draw men to Himself. Our Lord Jesus was the face of God looking longingly into men's faces. And they couldn't withstand the appeal of that gentle strong face. He was the voice of God talking into men's ears; and the music of that low, quiet voice thrilled and thralled their hearts. He was the hand of God, strong and warm, reaching down to take men by the hand and give them a strong lift up and back to the old Eden life. And, in time, as men put their hand in His, they came to feel the little knotted place in the palm of that outstretched hand, and the feel of it went strangely into their inmost being. He was the heart of God, tender and true, beating rhythmically in time and tune with the human heart. And the music had, and has, strange power of appeal to human hearts, and power to sway human lives like a great wind in the trees.
Our Lord Jesus was the person of God in human shape and human garb, come down close, to draw us men back again to the old trysting place under the Tree of Life. And in every generation, and every corner of the earth, then, and ever since then, men of every colour and sort have come back, and found how His presence eases the tug of life on many a steep roadway, and more, much more.
And our Lord Jesus drew men into personal friendship with Himself. He didn't like the long range way of doing things. Keeping men at arm's length never suited Him. He gave the inner heart touch, and He longed for the touch of the innermost heart. He was our friend. He asked that we be His friends, real friends of the rare sort, of which one's life has only a few.
And He asked, too, that all else that we brought to Him should be that which grew out of this personal friendship. He gave and did all that He did and gave, because He was our friend. He asked only for what grew out of a real heart friendship with Himself. He longed to have us give all, yet only what our hearts couldn't hold back. His friendship has one thing peculiar to itself. He has no favourites, in our common thought of that word, among the countless numbers who have come to be included in His inner circle of friends. Yet He gives to each such a distinctive personal touch of His own heart that you feel yourself to be on closest terms. He is nearer and closer than any other, and your longing is to be as near and close to Him in life as He is to you in His heart.
Now, because we are His friends and He is our friend, He calls us to follow Him. It is a privilege of friendship. He would share with you and with me the things of His own heart and life. He wants to have us come close up to Himself, and live close up. And the only way we can do it is by giving a glad "Yes" to His invitation, and following so close that we shall be up to Himself. Nothing less than this contents His longing.
But there is more than friendship here. He has a plan of action in His heart. It is a wide-reaching plan, clear beyond our idea of what wide-reaching means. It is nothing less than a plan for the whole world, the entire race, for winning it up to the old Eden life of purity and of close walking with God. That plan is the passion of His great heart. He has held nothing back—spared nothing—that it might be done. He is thinking of that plan as He comes eagerly to you and me, now, all afresh, and with His heart in His voice says "Follow Me." This is a bit of His plan for me and for you—that we shall be partners with Him in His plan for the world.
And yet—and yet—this helping Him, this partnership, this working with Him in His plan, is to be because of our friendship, His and mine, His and yours. It is a more than friendship He is thinking of. But that more is through the friendship. It grows out of the friendship. Only so does it work out His real plan.
Climbing the Hilltops.
Now this "Follow Me" of His, if taken into one's life, and followed up, will come to mean two things. There are two great things that stand sharply out in our Lord Jesus' life down here, His characteristics and His experiences. I mean what He was in Himself; and what He went through, suffered, enjoyed, and accomplished; the Man Himself, and the Man's experiences. These are the two things about which these simple talks will be grouped. Our Lord Jesus wants us to follow that we may climb up the hill as high as He did in these things.
Following means climbing. A friend has told recently of a journey taken to a certain village in New England from which, she had been told, a fine view could be got of the White Mountains. On arrival it seemed that a low hill completely shut out the view, to her intense disappointment. But her companion, by and by, called from the top of the low hill and eagerly beckoned her to come up. A bit of climbing quickly brought her to where the magnificent beauty of the mountains broke upon her delighted eyes.
Our Lord Jesus climbed the hilltops, both in His character and in His experiences. He wants us to share those rare hilltops with Him. He has gone away ahead of any other. He is the Lone Man in both character and experiences. And in some of His experiences He will ever remain the lone occupant of the hilltop. But He is eager for our companionship. He longs for the personal touch. He wants us to have all He has got. He has blazed a way through the thicket where there was no path before. He left the plain marks on the trees as He went through, so we could surely find the way. And now He eagerly beckons us to follow.
But following means climbing. It's a hill road, sometimes down hill, sometimes up hill. Which makes stiffer climbing? Usually the one you are doing seems the harder. Sometimes the road is a dead level between hills. And dead level walking—the monotonous dead-a-way, with no bracing air, no inspiring outlook—is often much harder than down hill or up. And so it too is climbing. Following means climbing. He climbed. He made the high climb all alone. No other ever had the courage to climb so high as He. It's easier since He has smoothed down the road with His own feet; yet it isn't easy; still it is easier than not climbing; that is, when you reckon the whole thing up—with Him in.
Now He asks you and me to climb. He cannot climb for you. That is, I mean He cannot do the climbing you ought to do. He has climbed for us, marked out the hill path, and made it possible for us to climb up too. But the after-climbing He cannot do for us. Each must do his own climbing. So lungs grow deeper, and heart-action stronger, and cheeks clearer, and muscles firmer. Step by step we must pull up, maybe through a fog, with no view of beauty, no bracing air yet, only His strong beckoning hand.
But those who reach up and get hold of hands with Him, and get up even to some of the lower reaches of the climb, stand with full hearts and dumb lips. They can't find words to tell the exhilaration of the climb, the bracing air, the far outlook, and, yet more, the wondrous presence of the Chief Climber, even though there's a bit of smarting of face and hands where the thorny tanglewood tore a bit as you went by.
Just now I want you to come with me for a bit of a look at the Lone Man, who has gone before. I mean at the Man Himself. We want to take a look at the characteristics of His life; what the Man was in His character.
And please understand me here. Following does not mean that we are to try to imitate these characteristics. No, it's something both simpler and easier, and deeper and better than that. It means that, as we companion with Him daily, these same traits will appear in us. It is not to be imitation simply, good as that might seem, yet always bringing a sense of failure, and that sense the thing you remember most. It is to be some One living His life in you, coming in through the open door of your will. Your part is opening up, and keeping open, listening and loving and obeying. The touchstone of the "Follow Me" life is not imitation but following; not copying but obeying; not struggle—though there will be struggle—but companionship, a companionship which nothing is allowed to take the fine edge off of.
And please remember, too, the meaning for us sinful men of these characteristics of His. With us character is a result of choice, and then nearly always—or should I cut out that "nearly"? the earnest man in the thick of the fight finds no "nearlys"—it's always with him—character is always the result of a fight to keep to the choice decided upon.
Now with greatest reverence for our Lord Jesus, let me say, it was so with Him. He was as truly God as though not man. Yet He lived His life,—He insisted on living His life, on the human level. He was as truly human as though not peculiarly divine. He had the enormous advantage of a virgin birth, a divine fatherhood with a human motherhood. And, be it said with utmost reverence, He needed that advantage for the terrific conflict and the tremendous task of His life, such as no other has known. But His character as a man—the thing we are to look at now—was a result of choice, and choice insisted upon against terrible odds.
This gives new meaning to His "Follow Me." He went the same sort of road that we must go. He insisted on treading our road. It was not one made easier for His specially prepared feet. It was the common earth road every man must go, who will. And so the way He went we can go if we will, every step of it. By His help working through our wills, we can, and, please God, surely we will.
The Dependent Life.
There were three traits in His character upward, that is in His relation with His Father. First of all He chose to live the dependent life. He recognized that everything He was, and had, and could do, was received from the Father, and could be at its true best only as the Father's direct touch was upon it. This was the atmosphere in which all His human powers would do their best. He had nothing of Himself, and could do nothing of Himself. This is the plan the Father has made for human life and effort. Our Lord Jesus recognized this and lived it. Our common word for this is humility. Humility is a matter of relationship. It means keeping one's relationship with the Father clear and dominant. And this in turn radically affects and controls our relationship with our fellows.
There were three degrees or steps in the dependent life He chose to live. There was the giving up part, then the accepting for Himself the plan of human life, and then accepting it even to the extent of yielding to wrong and shameful treatment, without attempting to assert His rights against such treatment. These were the three steps in His humility. In Paul's striking phrase, He "emptied out" of Himself all He had in glory with the Father before coming to the earth; He decided to come to the human level and live fully the human life of utter dependence; and He carried this to the extent of being wholly dependent on the Father for righting the wrongs done Him.
This is God's plan for the human life. It is to be a dependent life. It actually is a dependent life, utterly dependent upon Him. It is to be lived so. Then only is the fragrance of it gotten. It is part of the dependent life—the true human life—that we depend on the Father for vindication when wronged, as for everything else.
Our Lord Jesus chose to live this life. There was an entire absence of the self-spirit, that is the self-assertive, the self-confident spirit. There was a remarkable confidence in action, but it was confidence in His Father's unfailing response to His requests or needs. This sense of utter dependence was natural to Him; as indeed it is natural to man unhurt by sin. And then He carefully cultivated it. As He came in contact with the very opposite all around Him, He set Himself—indeed He had to set Himself—to keeping this sense of dependence untainted, unhurt by His surroundings.
Now there were three things which naturally grew out of this dependent life, or which naturally are part of it. One was, the sense of His Father, and of His Father's presence. In a perfectly simple natural way, He was always conscious of His Father's presence. Is this the meaning—one meaning—of "blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God"? And then He doubtless set Himself to cultivate this, as an offset to what He found around Him. He would quietly look up and speak to the Father in the midst of a crowd. This was the natural thing to do. He was more conscious of the Father's presence than of the crowd pressing in to get near. When He was speaking to the crowd He knew the Father too was listening. He felt the Father watching as He helped the people. This was the natural thing with Him, the presence of the Father.
With this there went a second thing, the habit of getting alone to talk things over with the Father. The common word for this is prayer. Without doubt His whole outer life grew out of His inner secret talking things out with the Father. Everything was passed in review here, first of all. This naturally grew out of the consciousness of His Father's presence, and this in turn increased that consciousness. So He was in the habit of looking at everything through His Father's eyes.
And with these two, there was plainly a third thing, a settled sense of the power, the authority, of God's written Word. It was not simply that He did not question it, but there was a deep-rooted sense grown down into His very being that God was speaking in the Book, and that this revelation of Himself and His will was the thing to govern absolutely one's life. This points back to a study of the Book. Doubtless that Nazareth shop was a study shop too. He quoted readily and freely from all portions of the Old Testament Bible. He seemed saturated with both its language and its spirit. The basis of such familiarity would be long, painstaking, prayerful study.
These three things naturally grew out of the dependent life He had deliberately chosen to live and were a part of it. They were necessary to it. These are the lungs and the heart of the dependent life.
Now His "Follow Me" does not mean merely that we try to imitate Him in all this. We will naturally long to do so. And He is the example we will ever be eager to follow. But the meaning goes deeper than this. It means that as we really come close up in the road behind Him this will come to be the natural atmosphere of our lives. We let Him in, and His presence within, yielded to and cultivated and obeyed, will work this sort of thing out in our lives. We will come to recognize, and then to feel deep down in our spirit, how dependent we are upon Him in everything. We will gradually come to realize intensely that the dependent life is the true natural life. It is God's plan. It reveals wondrously His love. It draws out wondrously our love, and radically changes the whole spirit of the life.
Poor—Except in Spirit.
Now of course all this is in sharpest contrast to the common spirit of life as men live, then and now. The spirit that dominates human life everywhere is a spirit of independence. And this seems intensified in our day to a terrific degree. There is, of course, a good independence in our dealings with our fellows. But this is carried to the extreme of independence of every one, even—say it softly—of God Himself. Criticising God, ignoring Him, leaving Him severely out so far as we are concerned,—this has become the commonplace. If for a moment He ignored us, how quickly things would go to pieces! This has come to be the dominant spirit of the whole race to a degree more marked than ever before, if that be possible.
It seems to come into life early. I have seen a little tot, whom I could with no inconvenience have tucked under my arm, walking down the road, head up in the air, breathing out an aggressive self-confidence, and defiance of all around, worthy of one of the old-time kings. And I recognized that he had simply absorbed the atmosphere in which his four brief years had been lived.
This has come to be the inbred spirit of mankind. Everywhere this proud, self-assertive, self-sufficient, self-confident, self-aggressive spirit is found, in varying degree. It is coupled sometimes with laughable ignorance; sometimes with real learning and wisdom and culture. It is emphasized sometimes the more by school training, and other such advantages. But through all these accidental things it remains,—the dominant human characteristic. The chief letter in man's alphabet is the one next after h, spelled and written with a large capital. The yellow fever—the fever for gold—so increasingly epidemic, is at heart a bit of the same thing. The money gives power, and power gives a certain independence of others, and then a certain compelling of others to be dependent on the one who has the money and wields the power. Men everywhere say just exactly what they are specially warned against saying, "my power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth." They forget the words following this in the old Book of God. "But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God, for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth."
This seems to be the picture that underlies that phrase, "poor in spirit," which the Master declared to be so blessed. He is trying to woo men away from the thing that is dominating those all around Him. I have puzzled a good bit over the phrase to find out just what was in the Master's mind. Emphasizing the word "spirit" seems to bring out the meaning. The blessedness is not in being poor, but in a certain spirit that may control a man. We are all poor in everything except spirit.
The last degree of poverty is to be a pauper. Now, the simple truth is that we are all—every last man of us—paupers in everything. We haven't a thing we haven't got from some one else. We are beneficiaries to the last degree, dependent on the bounty of Another. We are paupers in life itself. Our life came to us in the first instance from the creative Hand, through the action of others, and it is being sustained every moment by the same Hand. We had nothing to do with its coming, and, while we influence our life by living in accord with certain physical laws, still the life itself is all the time being supplied to us directly by the same unseen Hand.
We are paupers in ability, in virtue, in character, in fact in everything. We own nothing; we only hold it in trust. We have nothing except what some One else is supplying. What we call our ability, our genius, and so on, comes by the creative breath breathing afresh upon and through what the patient creative Hand has supplied and is sustaining. We are paupers, without a rag to our bones, or a copper in the pocket we haven't got, not having a rag to our bones; paupers in everything except——.
There is an exception. It is both pitiable and laughable. We are enormously rich in spirit, in our imagination, in our thought of ourselves. Blessed are they who are as poor in spirit as they actually are in everything else. They recognize that they are wholly dependent on some One else, and so they live the dependent life, with its blessed closeness of touch with the gracious Provider. In certain institutions are placed those who imagine themselves to be in high social and official rank, and in possessions what they are not, who imagine it to such a degree that it is best that they be kept apart from others. It would seem like an extreme thing to say that these people are spirit-mirrors in which we may partly see ourselves. Yet it would be saying the truth. How laughable, if it were not so overwhelmingly pitiful, must men look to God,—without a stitch to their backs except what He has given, without a copper in their pockets except what has been borrowed from His bank, yet strutting up and down the street of life, heads held high in air, as though they owned the universe, and—if it did not sound blasphemous I could add the rest of the fact—and were doing Him a favour by running His world so skilfully! And it grieves one to the heart to note that this seems to be about as true within Church circles as without. The difference between is ever growing smaller to the disappearing point.
It was into such an atmosphere, never intenser than in Palestine and Jerusalem nineteen centuries ago, that the man Christ Jesus came. And He had the moral daring to begin living a dependent life, the true human life, looking up gratefully to the Father's hand for everything. Was it any wonder His presence caused such a disturbance in the moral atmosphere of the world! He insisted, with the strange insistence of gentleness, on living such a life, through all the extremes that the hating world-spirit could contrive against Him. Out of such a life comes His "Follow Me." And in this He is simply calling us back to the original human life as planned by God.
Now, of course, in that first step, that great "emptying out" step, there can be no following. There He is the Lone Man, unapproachable in the moral splendour of His solitude. But from the time when He came in amongst us as Jesus, our Brother, the typical Son of man, He was marking out afresh the original road for our feet. This was the foundation trait in His character. He lived the dependent life.
A Father-pleasing Life.
The second trait in His upward relation was this—He chose to live a Father-pleasing life. I use those words because He used them. I might say "consecrated" or "dedicated" or "surrendered" or other like words. And these are good words, but in common use we have largely lost their meaning. They are used unthinkingly for something less—much less—than they mean. Perhaps if we use the phrase He used we may be able to get back to the thing He meant, and did.
There are three possible lives open to every man's choice: a bad life, in which selfishness or passion or both, either refined or coarse, rule; a good, true, natural life; and a Father-pleasing life. By a good, true, natural life I mean, just now, a really Christian life in all that that means, but lived as if there were no emergency in the world to change one's habit of life.
You know an emergency coming into a man's life makes radical changes. You go to bed tonight and ordinarily will sleep out your eight hours in comfort and quiet. If a fire break out in the house, you are up in the middle of the night, hurrying around, only partly clad, carrying out valuables, or helping turn on water, or something of this sort. Your natural arrangements for the night are all broken up by the fire. An emergency may make radical changes in one's life for a little time, sometimes for the whole life. Financial reverses may change the whole habit of one's life.
Here's a man who has a well-assured, good-sized income from his business, or his inheritance, or both. He lives in a luxuriously appointed home, with many fine pictures and works of art and curios which it is enjoyable to have. He has a choice library including some fine costly old prints and editions, and enjoys adding rare books on subjects in which he is specially interested. He belongs to some literary and social and athletic clubs. He has an interesting family growing up around him whose education is being carefully looked after. He is an earnest Bible-loving Christian, faithful in church attendance and church duties, pure in life, and saintly in character. He gives liberally to church and benevolent objects, including foreign missions, which have become a part of the church system into which he fits. And he goes an even, contented round of life, home, church, club, recreation and so on, year in and out, holding and using the great bulk of his money for himself. I think of that as one illustration of the good, true, natural life.
Now, the Father-pleasing life is radically different in certain things. Ordinarily the two would be identical. The true natural life as originally planned for us would be the life pleasing to the Father. But something, not a part of God's plan, has broken into life, a terrible something, worse than a fire in the night, or a financial panic that sweeps away your all. Sin has wrought fearful havoc; it has made an awful emergency, and this emergency has affected the life and character of all the race, in a bad way, terribly, awfully, beyond words to tell, or imagination to depict. The whole earth is in the grip of a desperate moral emergency.
And naturally enough this emergency affects the life of any one concerned with this earth. It has affected God's life, and God's plans, tremendously. It has broken His heart with grief, and radically changed His plans for His own life. He has made a plan for winning His world away from its rebellion, its sin, back again to purity and close touch with Himself. That plan centred around His Son, and He spared not His own Son, but gave Him up.
And that emergency, and that plan of the Father's because of the emergency, have affected our Lord Jesus' life on the earth. The whole plan of His human life was radically revolutionized by it. The emergency, the Father's plan, gripped Him. He turned away from the true, good, natural life which it would have been proper for Him as a man to have lived, and He lived another sort of life. It was an emergency life, a life fitted to His Father's plan, and so the Father-pleasing life.
He became a homeless man, with all that that means. Would any man have enjoyed home-life with all the rare home-joys, the sweetest of all natural joys, so much as He? And then the larger circle of congenial friends, the enjoyment of music, of exquisite art, the reverent study of the great questions of life, of the wonders of nature whose powers it was given man to study and cultivate and develop,—it is surely no irreverence to think of Him both enjoying and gracing such a life, for such was the original plan of human life as thought out by a gracious Creator.
Instead, He had not where to lay His head, though so wearied with ceaseless toil. He fairly burned His life out those few years, early and late, ministering to the emergency-stricken crowds, healing their sick, feeding their hunger, raising their dead, comforting broken hearts, winning back sin-stained men and women, teaching the ignorant neglected multitudes, preaching the Father's yearning love, searching out the straying, ceaselessly travelling up and down, without leisure enough to sleep or to eat oftentimes, and all this despite the efforts of His kinsfolk to restrain His burning intensity.
This is what I mean by a Father-pleasing life. It was truly the consecrated life, consecrated to His Father's emergency plan for His world. It was the surrendered life, wholly given up to the one passionate plan of His Father's broken heart for His earth family.
Now, His "Follow Me" does not mean imitation. It does not mean a restless, aggressive hurrying here and there in meetings and Christian service. It means that there will be a getting so close that the sweet fever of His heart shall be caught by ours. The world-vision of His eyes shall flood ours. The passion of the Father's heart shall become the passion of our hearts. And we shall be controlled in all our lives, our holdings, our habits, by what He tells us. It does not mean that we will seek to be homeless as Jesus was, though it may possibly turn out to mean for some of us that we shall be homeless even as He.
But it means that we shall find out the Father's plan for our lives. And when it has become clear, we will set to music pitched in the joyous major our Lord's own words, "I do always the things that are pleasing to Him." And then we will set our lives to that joyous music with its rare undertone of the exquisite minor. It may mean Africa for you, or China for this other one. It may mean a plainer home at home, a simpler wardrobe, a more careful use of money. It may mean a new dominant note in your preaching, and all the personal influence of your life. It may possibly mean what will seem like yet more radical changes. It certainly will mean a deepening peace within, a closer touch of fellowship with the Lord Jesus, a wholly new conception of the meaning of prayer, and a radically new experience of the power of God in our own bodies and lives, and in our touch with others. It will mean that the music of His will and ours swinging rhythmically together in all things shall sweep our lives even as the strong wind the young saplings.
This was the second trait in our Lord Jesus' character upward, He lived the Father-pleasing life. To some it will seem like a further step—a fourth step—downward in His humility. And it was. The way up is down. The down slant is the beginning of the hilltop road. Going down is the way up; downward in the crowd's estimation; upward into closer touch of sympathetic life with God, and in reaching the true ideal of life.
The Obedient Life.
The third trait of our Lord Jesus' character upward, in relation with His Father, was that He lived the obedient life. This is really emphasizing what has just been said. But it is putting the emphasis on the daily habit of His life, rather than on the underneath motive. This was the daily spelling out of the first two traits. Obedience became the touchstone by which everything was tested.
The touchstone was not men's needs, deeply as that took hold of His heart, and shaped so much His life. It was not the thought of service, though never was a life so filled with eager glad service. The touchstone was not natural liking or choice, the proper instinctive reach out of His true human nature, though this would be strong in Him, the typical Son of Man. This would not be repressed as an unholy or wrong thing. It would only be given second place, or left out, as it might run across the grain of the great life-passion. With a fresh touch of awe it may truly be said: He did not come down to earth primarily to die, though He knew beforehand that this would stand out as the great one thing. The death was an item in the obedience. He came down to do His Father's will. The path of obedience led straight to the hill of the cross, and He trod that path regardless of where it led. Obedience was the one touchstone of His life. And it will be the one touchstone of His true follower's life. We shall run across this same vein of bright yellow gold, again and again, as we work on through this "Follow Me" mine. These were the three traits of our Lord Jesus' character upward, toward His Father. They were not different because of the emergency of sin He found in the world. They would have marked His life just as fully had there been no sin. But the presence of sin caused them to change radically the whole course of the life He actually lived.
Sinless by Choice.
Then there were two traits of character inward, in Himself. One was His purity. There was the absence of everything that should not be in Him. This is the negative side, though no part of His character called for more intense positiveness. Purity means sinlessness. He was sinless. But we must quickly remember what this means, or else there may seem to be no following for us, only a wistful gazing where we cannot go. It does not mean simply this, that through His peculiar birthright there was freedom from all taint of sin.
It means more than this. Sinlessness was a matter of choice with Him, and of choice insisted upon. And, be it said reverently, no man ever had a stiffer fight to keep true to his purpose than He. He was tempted in all points like as we are. He was tempted more than we. The tempter did his best and worst; he mustered all his cunning and driving power against this Lone Man. And the temptations were real. I am not concerned over the merely academical questions of the schoolmen here. The practical side is the intense side that takes all one's strength and thought. Practically, that our Lord Jesus was really tempted, means that He could have yielded had He so chosen. That He did not meant real struggle on His part. Not, of course, that He ever wanted to yield to what was wrong, but temptation was never so subtle, and doing the right never made so difficult as for Him. He suffered in being tempted. His sinlessness meant a decision, then many a time a moist brow, a clenched hand, and set jaw, a sore stress of spirit, and deep-breathed continual prayer whose intensity down in His heart could never be fully expressed at the lips. The temptation to fail to obey, simply not to obey, when obeying meant going through a sore experience was never brought so deftly, so subtly, so repeatedly and insistently to any as to Him. Resisting not only meant the decision, but the strength of resistance against terrific strength of repeated insistence.
How wondrously human this God-man was in His temptations, in His set refusals, and even more, how human in keeping free from sin. For sin is not human, letting sin in would have been a going down from the human level. This is the practical meaning of His sinlessness—choice, choice insisted upon, fighting, continual prayer, the Father's help, such as any man may have—not more.
This helps us to see how intensely practical His "Follow Me" becomes. It is not only that we will want to fight against the incoming of sin because we feel we ought to. But as we get close to Him and breathe in His spirit, there will come an inbred dislike, an intense inner loathing of sin, however refined it may be in its approach. There will be a continual coming for cleansing in the only fluid that can remove sin—His precious blood, and in the only flame that can burn it out—the fire of the Holy Spirit. There will be a hardening of the set purpose to be free of sin. We can be sinless in purpose. There can be a growing sinlessness in actual life. And yet all experience goes to show that the nearer we actually walk with God the more we shall be conscious of the need of cleansing, the more we will talk about our Lord Jesus, and the less and still less about our attainments.
The second inward trait in our Lord Jesus was the other side of this—His positive goodness. I mean the presence in Him of all that should be there. This is the exact reverse or complement of the purity. It is the other half that must go with that to make a perfect character. I like to use the word "holiness" in the sense of whole-ness. He had and developed a whole life. It was fully rounded out. There was nothing lacking that should be there, even as there was nothing present that should not have been there.
There is among us a good bit of negative goodness of character. We point with pride to what we don't do of that which is bad or not good. But this is a very one-sided sort of thing. Purity and goodness together—purity and holiness, wholeness—made the perfect, completed character of our Lord. And it was so wholly through His choice, His own action, with His Father's gracious help working through His choice. And the blessed contagion of the Leader's presence will make an intense longing within to follow Him here too.
Then there were two outward traits of character, that is in His relations with His fellow-men, of Nazareth, of Israel, and of all the race. He had sympathy with men; a rare, altogether exceptional sympathy. He felt with men in all their feelings and needs and circumstances. His fine spirit reached into men's inner spirit, and felt their hunger and pain and longings and joys, felt them even as they did, and the arms of His spirit went around them to help. And they felt it. They felt that He really understood and felt with them. And so sincere and brotherly was His fellow-feeling that they gladly welcomed it as from one really of themselves. To men, this Man, so lone in certain traits and experiences, was their brother, not only in His feeling with them, but in their feeling toward Him.
There's something peculiar in that word sympathy. It's a warm word. It has a soft cushion to it. It is a help word. There's something in it that makes you think of a warm strong hand helping, of a soft padding cushioning the sharp edges where they touch your flesh. It makes you think of a tender, fine spirit breathing in and through your own spirit, even as the soft south wind in the spring warms you, and the bracing mountain wind in the summer brings you new life.
Our Lord Jesus had this great trait of sympathy with His fellows. He could have it, for He had been through all their experiences. He knew the commonplace round of daily life so common to all the race. Nazareth taught Him that, through thirty of His thirty-three years,—ten-elevenths of His life. He knew temptation, cunning, subtle, stormy, persistent. He knew the inner longings of a nature awakening, and yet what it meant to be held down by outer circumstances. He knew the sharp test of waiting, long waiting. He knew hunger and bodily weariness, and the pinch of scanty funds. He was homeless at a time when a home would have been most grateful. He knew what it meant to have the life-plan broken, and something else, a bitter something else thrust in its place.
And he knew, too, the sweets of human life, of human love, of the helpfulness of others' sympathy, of the Father's pleased smile, of the Holy Spirit's indwelling, of the wondrous inner peace that follows obedience in hard places, of the joys of service, of the delight of being able to sympathize. His experience ran through the whole diapason of human feelings, and so He can find a key-note in every one of its tones for the sweet rich symphony of sympathy.
There is again an exception to be noted here. There could be no fellow-feeling in choosing wrong, or in yielding to the low or base or selfish. He is the Lone Man there. Does this make all the stronger His sympathy with us in our upper reach out of such things? Surely it does. The exception makes it stand out more sharply that our Lord Jesus felt our feelings. Wherever you are, however tight the corner, or narrow the road, or lonely the way, or keen the suffering, you can always stop and say: "He was here. He was here first, and most. He understands." As you kneel and look up, you can remember that there's a Man on the throne, a fellow-man, with a human heart like mine, and like yours. He understands. He feels. With utmost reverence let it be said, there's more of God since our Lord Jesus went back. Human experience has been taken up into the person of God.
And let me remind you again, that the "Follow Me" here will mean nothing less than fellowship in the sufferings of our fellows, fellowship to the point of radically affecting our lives. Sympathy will go deeper than a sense of pity for those less fortunate, and a giving to them a warm hand and a good lift up. The poor woman, living in a slum district, being visited by a mission visitor, spoke for the universal human heart when she said earnestly, "We don't want things; we want love." As we get up close to our Lord Jesus there will come the indwelling in us of the spirit that controlled Him. We will see through His eyes, we will feel with His heart, our hands will reach out to grasp other human hands with the impulse of His touch upon them. We shall know the exquisite pain of real sympathy with men in need, and the great joy of sharing and making lighter their load.
When You Don't Have To.
The second outward trait of our Lord Jesus' character was sacrifice. This is not something different from what has been said; it is only going a step further, indeed going the last step that He could go, in both His sympathy with men and His obedience to His Father. It helps to remember what sacrifice means; not suffering merely, though it includes suffering; not privation simply, though it may include this, too. There is much suffering and privation where there is no sacrifice. Sacrifice means doing something to help some one else when it takes some of your life-blood, and when you don't have to, except the have-to of love.
Sacrifice was so woven into the very fabric of Jesus' life that wherever you cut in some of the red threads stick out. It was the never-absent undertone of His life, from earliest years until the tragic close. But the undertone rose higher and grew stronger until at the last it became the dominant, the only tone to be heard. He gave His life out on the cross that so men might be saved from the terrible result of their sin, when He didn't have to, except the have-to of His great heart.
I have spoken of sacrifice as one of the two outward, manward traits of His character. But the truth is His Calvary sacrifice faced three ways: upward, inward and outward. It faced toward the Father, for it was carrying out the Father's plan, and that lets us see not only the Father's love, but His estimate, as the world's administrator of justice, of the horribleness of the sin which He was so freely forgiving. It faced in toward Himself, for it was the purity and perfection of the life poured out that gave the peculiar meaning to His death, and it was His sympathetic love that led Him up that steep hill. It faced outward, for the love of it was meant to break men's hearts and bend their stubborn wills, and so it did and has.
His sympathy—love suffering—came to have a new meaning as He went to the last extreme in His suffering. Sympathy is sometimes spoken of as putting yourself in the other's place so as to help him better. Our Lord Jesus did this. He did it as none other did, or could. He actually put Himself in our place on the cross. He experienced what would have come to us had He not taken our place. He suffered the suffering that belongs to us because of our sin. He felt the feelings that came through sin working out to its bitter end. Indeed He went beyond our own feelings here. For because He consented to suffer as a guilty sinner, we, who trust His precious blood, are spared that awful experience.
Calvary was sympathy to the extreme of sacrifice. But both words, "sympathy" and "sacrifice," get new depths of meaning at Calvary. This red shuttle thread of sacrifice will appear again and again in the fabric which His "Follow Me" weaves out for us. What a character He calls us to! What strength of friendship to insist on our coming up close to Himself! Is it possible? Surely not. He is so far beyond us. Yet there is a way, only one, the way of the dependent life, depending on Him to reproduce His own likeness in us. And our giving Him a free hand in doing it.
There is one word that could be used to cover all of this, if we only knew its full, rich, sweet meaning. That is the little understood, the much misunderstood, much belittled-in-use word, "love." All that has been said of the character of our Lord Jesus can be found inside that four-lettered word. Each trait spoken of is but a fresh spelling of love, some one side of it. Love planned the dependent life, and only love can live it truly. Love longs to please love, regardless of any sacrifice involved. Obedience is the active rhythm of love on the street of life. Purity is the inner heart of love; and the fully rounded character is the maturity of love. Sympathy is the heart of love beating in perfect rhythm with your own, and sacrifice is love giving its very life gladly out to save yours. Some day we shall know how much is meant by the sentence, "God is love."
A little child of a Christian home came one day to his mother, asking what it meant to "believe on the Lord Jesus." She thought a moment how to make the answer simple to the child, and then said, "It means thinking about Him, and loving Him." Sometime after, the little fellow was noticed sitting very quietly, apparently much absorbed in thought, and his mother said, "What are you doing, my son?" With child-like simplicity he said in a quiet tone, "I'm believing on the Lord Jesus." And a warm flush of feeling came to the mother's heart as she realized the practical tender meaning to her son, of the word "believing."
May we be great enough to be as little children while I adapt that mother's language here: Following our Lord Jesus is thinking about Him and loving Him. As we come to know the meaning of love we shall find that following is loving. The "Follow Me" life is the love life. But we must learn the meaning of love before that sentence will grip us.
The closer we follow Him the closer we will come to knowing what love is. The nearer we get to Him the nearer we get to its meaning. We will know it as we know Him. When we come into His presence, face to face, its simple full meaning will flash upon us with a great simple surprise.
Let us follow on to know it, that we may know Him. Let us live it and so we shall live Him. And in so living we shall know it and Him; we shall know love, and Jesus, and God.
The Long, Rough Road He Trod
The Book's Story.
It wasn't always a rough road, of course. But as you look at it from end to end, the roughness of it is what takes your eye most, and takes great hold of your heart. The smooth places here and there make you feel that it was a rough road. And yet, rough though it really was, the roughness was eased by the love in the heart of the Man that trod it; though not eased for the soles of His feet, nor for hands and face. For there was thorny roughness at the sides as He pushed through, as well as steep roughness under foot.
And it may not seem so long at first. But the longer you look, the sharper your eyes get to see how great was the distance He had to come, from where He was, down to where we were.
Let me take a little sea room, and go back a bit so we can see the full length, and the real roughness, of the road He came. And lest some of you may think that the telling of the first part of it has the sound of a fairy tale, let me tell you that it is simply the story of what actually took place, as told in the pages of this old Book of God. It will be a help if you will keep your copy of the Bible at hand, and turn thoughtfully to its pages now and then as we talk.
There is a rare simplicity in the way in which the story of the Bible is told. And it helps to remember that the Bible is never concerned with chronology, nor with scientific process but only with giving pictures of moral or spiritual conditions among men as seen from above. And chiefly it is concerned with giving a picture of God, in His power and patience and gentleness, and in His great justice and right in dealing with everybody. Yet the picture and the language never clash with the facts of nature and of life as dug out by student or scientist.
It is a great help in talking about these things of God, and of human life, not to have any theories to fit and press things into, but simply to take the Book's story, and to tell it over again in the language of our generation. It simplifies things quite a bit not to try to fit God into your philosophy, but to accept His own story of life. It not only greatly simplifies one's outlook, it gives you such sure footing, such steadiness. Any other footing may go out from under your feet any time. But the old Book of God "standeth sure," never more sure than to-day when it was never more riddled at, and mined under. But neither bullets nor mining have affected the Book itself. The only harm has been in the kick-back of the firing, upon those standing close by.
I am frank to confess my own ignorance of the great truths we are talking over here, save for the Bible itself, and the response to it within my own spirit, and the further response to it in human life all over the earth to-day West and East. Human life is a faithful mirror, accurately reflecting to-day just the conditions found in this old Book. No book so faithfully and accurately describes the workings and feelings of the human mind and heart of to-day in our western world, and in all the world, as this Book, written so long ago in the language of the East. Its finger still gives accurately the pulse beat of the race. And it helps, too, to tell the story in the simple way in which this Book itself does, as a story.
God on a Wooing Errand.
God and man used to live together in a garden. It was a most wonderful garden, full of trees and flowers and fruit, of singing birds with rare feathers and songs, of beasts that had never yet learned fear, nor to make others feel it, and a beautiful river of living water. The name given it indicates that it was a most delightful spot. God and man used to live together in this garden. They talked and walked and worked together. Man helped God in putting the finishing touches on His work of creation. It was the first school, with God Himself as teacher. God and man used to have a trysting time under the trees in the twilight. But one evening when God came for the usual bit of fellowship the man was not there. God was there. He had not gone away, and He has never gone away. Man had gone away, and God was left lonely standing under the tree of life.
A friend, in whose home we were, told of her little daughter's remark one day. The mother had been teaching her that there is only one God. The child seemed surprised and on being told again, said in her childlike simplicity, "I think He must be very lonesome." Well, the child was right in the word used. God is lonesome, though for an utterly different reason than was in the child's mind. God was lonesome that day, left standing alone under the trees of the garden. He is lonesome for fellowship with every one who stays away from Himself. That homely human word may well express to us the longing of His heart.
Man went away from God that day, then he wandered farther away, then he lost his way back, then he didn't want to come back. And away from God his ideas about God got badly confused. His eyes grew blind to God's pleading face, his ears dull and then deaf to God's voice. His will got badly warped and bent out of shape morally, and his life sadly hurt by the sin he had let in.
And all this was very hard on God. It grieved Him at His heart. He sent many messengers, one after another, through long years, but they were treated as badly as they could be. And at last God said to Himself, "What more can I do? This is what I will do. I'll go down Myself and live among them, and woo them back Myself." And so it was done. One day He wrapped about Himself the garb of our humanity, and came in amongst us as one of ourselves. And He became known amongst us as Jesus. He had spoken the world into being; now, in John's simple homely language, He pitched His tent amongst our tents as our near neighbour and kinsman. Our Lord Jesus was the face of God looking into ours, the voice of God speaking into the ears of our hearts, the hand of God reached down to make a way back and then lead us along the way back again, the heart of God coming in touch to warm ours and make us willing to go back.
It was a long road He came, as long as the distance we had gone away from Him. And no measuring stick has yet been whittled out that can tell that distance. We want to look a bit at the last lap of the road, the earth-lap. It runs from the Bethlehem plain where He came in, to the Olivet hilltop where He slipped away again up and back, for a time, until things are ready for the next step in His plan.
The Rough Places.
The bit of earth-road began to get pretty rough before He had quite gotten here. The pure gentle virgin-mother was under cruelly hurting suspicion on the point about which a woman is properly most sensitive, and that too by the one who was nearest to her. I've wondered why Joseph, too, was not told of the plan of God when Mary was, and so she be spared this sore suspicion. I think it was because he simply could not have taken it in beforehand, though he rose so nobly when he was told. Her experience was unavoidable, humanly speaking.
That hastily improvised cradle was in rather a rough spot for both mother and babe. The hasty fleeing for several days and nights to Egypt, with those heart-rending cries of the grief-stricken mothers of Bethlehem haunting their ears, the cautious return, and then apparently the change of plans from a home in historic Bethlehem to the much less favoured village of Nazareth,—it was all a pretty rough beginning on a very rough road. It was a sort of prophetic beginning. There proved to be blood-shedding at both ends, and each time innocent blood, too.
The word Nazareth has become a high fence hiding from view thirty of the thirty-three years. Was this the dead-level, monotonous stretch of the road, from the time of the early teens on to the full maturity of thirty? Yet it proved later to have a dangerously rough place on the precipice side of the town. It seems rather clear that Joseph and Mary would have much preferred some other place, their own family town, cultured Bethlehem, for rearing this child committed to their care. But the serious danger involved decided the choice of the less desirable town for their home.
But the roughest part began when our Lord Jesus turned His feet from the shaded seclusion of Nazareth, and turned into the open road. At once came the Wilderness, the place of terrific temptation, and of intense spirit conflict. The fact of temptation was intensified by the length of it. Forty long days the lone struggle lasted. The time test is the hardest test. The greatest strength is the strength that wears, doesn't wear out. That Wilderness had stood for sin's worst scar on the earth's surface. Since then it has stood for the most terrific and lengthened-out siege-attack by the Evil One upon a human being. Satan himself came and rallied all the power of cunning and persistence at his command. He did his damnable worst and best.
In an art gallery at Moscow is a painting by a Russian artist of "Christ in the Wilderness," which reverently and with simple dramatic power brings to you the intense humanity of our Lord, and how tremendously real to Him the temptation was. This helps to intensify to us the meaning of the Wilderness. It stands for victory, by a man, in the power of the Spirit, over the worst temptation that can come.
Then follows a long stretch of rough road with certain places sharply marked out to our eyes. The rejection by the Jewish leaders began at once. It ran through three stages, the silent contemptuous rejection, the active aggressive rejection, then the hardened, murderous rejection running up to the terrible climax of the cross.
The contemptuous rejection of the Baptist's claim for his Master, by the official commission sent down to inquire, was followed by the more aggressive, as they began to realize the power of this man they had to deal with. John's imprisonment revealed an intensifying danger, and the need of withdrawing to some less dangerous place.
Our Lord's change to Galilee, and to preaching and working among the masses, was followed by a persistent campaign on the part of the Southerners of nagging, harrying warfare against Him throughout Galilee. It grew in bitterness and intensity, with John's death as a further turning point to yet intenser bitterness. The visits to Jerusalem were accompanied by fiercer attacks, venomous discussions, and frenzied attempts at personal violence. This grew into the third stage of rejection, the cool, hardened plotting of His death. The last weeks things head up at a tremendous rate; our Lord appears to be the one calm, steady man, even in His terrific denunciation of them, held even and steady in the grip of a clear, strong purpose, as He pushed His way unwaveringly onward. Then came the terrible climax,—the cross. The worst venomous spittle of the serpent's poison sac spat out there. It was the climax of hate, and the climax of His unspeakable love.
When Your Heart's Tuned to the Music.
Surely it was a long, rough road. Its length was not measured by miles, nor years, but by the experiences of this Lone Man. So measured it becomes the longest road ever trod, from purity's heights to sin's depths; from love's mountain top to hate's deepest gulf. It makes a new record for roughness. For no one has ever suffered what our Lord Jesus did; and no one's suffering ever had the value and meaning for another that His had and has for all men and for us. Not one of us to-day realizes how He suffered, nor the intensity of meaning that suffering actually has for all the race, and for those of us who accept it for ourselves.
It was a rough, long road, and He knew ahead that it would be. He saw dimly ahead, then more sharply outlined as He drew on, those crossed logs in the road, growing bigger and darker and more forbidding as He pushed on. But He could not be stopped by that, for He was thinking about us, and about His Father. He pushed steadily on, past crossed logs all overgrown and tangled with thorn bushes and poison ivy vines, bearing the marks of logs and thorns and poison ivy, but He went through to the end of the road, He reached His world; He reached our hearts. And now He is longing to reach through our hearts to the hearts of the others.
"But none of the ransomed ever knew How deep were the waters crossed; Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through, 'Ere He found His sheep that were lost.
'Lord, whence are those blood-drops all the way That mark out the mountain's track?' 'They were shed for one who had gone astray Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.'
But all through the mountains, thunder-riven, And up from the rocky steep, There arose a glad cry to the gate of heaven, 'Rejoice! I have found my sheep.'"
But there was something more on that road. Do you know how the wind blows through the trees on the steep mountain side, and will make music in your heart, if your heart is tuned to its music, even while you are pushing your way through thorny tanglewood and undergrowth? Do you know how, as you go down the deep mountain ravines, with the wild rushing torrent far below, where a single misstep would mean so much, how the breeze playing through the leaves makes sweetest melody, if your heart's tuned to it?
Well, this great Lone Man had a heart tuned for the music of this road. The strong wind of His Father's love blew down through the wild mountains into His face, and made sweetest music, and His ear was in tune and heard it. He had a tuning-fork that gave Him the true pitch for the rarest music, while His feet travelled cautiously the deep wilderness ravines, and boldly climbed through the thorny undergrowth of that steep hill just outside the city wall. Obedience is the rhythm of two wills, that blends their action into rarest harmony. Some of us need to use His tuning-fork, so as to enjoy the music of the road.
The Pleading Call To Follow
Hungry for the Human Touch.
God hungers for the human touch. There's an inner hesitancy in saying this, and in hearing it. We feel it can hardly be so, even though our inner hearts would wish it were so.
We know that we men hunger for the human touch, the strongest of us. And in our hour of sore need we know that our inner hearts look up, and wish we could have a really close touch with God. Well, this is a bit of the image of God in us. We were made so, like Himself. In seeing ourselves here, we are getting a closer look at the heart of God. He longs for the human touch. When He made us He breathed into our nostrils the breath of His own life. And this is not simply a bit of the first Genesis chapter. It is a bit of every human life. There's the breath of God in every new life born into the world. He gives a bit of Himself. We are not complete creatively until part of Himself has come to be part of us.
And Jesus' coming was but the same thing put in yet more intense, close, appealing shape to us. He came to get us in touch again after the break of sin. He gave His blood that we might have life again after the sin-break had broken off our life, and commenced to dry it up. This was an even closer touch. The breath of God came in Eden to breathe in our lungs. The blood of His Son came on Calvary to give life-action to our hearts. Could there be anything to make clearer His hunger for the human touch?
The Holy Spirit's presence spells out the same thing once more. There has been every sort of thing to induce Him to go away. He has been ignored, left out of all reckoning, and talked against. Yet with a patience beyond what that word means to us, He has remained creatively in every man as the very breath of his life. And He comes and remains the very breath of the spirit life in those who yield to His pleading call.
Jesus was God coming after us. We had gone away. He came to woo us back into close touch again. He came to the nation of Israel, that through it He might reach out to all men. When He comes again it will be again to use Israel as His messenger, while He Himself will be present on the earth in a new way to woo men to Himself. When that nation's leaders rejected John's announcement, and so rejected our Lord Jesus, He began to appeal to individual men, while waiting for the nation. And the work with individuals was also His call to the nation.
So the chief thing He did was to call men. His presence was a call, and the crowds flocked to Him wherever He went. His life of purity and sympathy was felt as an earnest call and responded to eagerly. His doings were a very intense call. Every healed man and woman, every one set free of demon influence, every one of the fed multitudes, felt called to this man who had helped him so. His teaching was a continual call, and His preaching. But above all else stood out the personal call He gave men. For our Lord Jesus was not content to deal with the crowds simply; He dealt with men one by one in intimate heart touch.
Called to Go.
There are a number of invitations He used in calling men. It was as though in His eagerness He used every sort that might go home. And yet there was more than this; these invitations are like successive steps up into the life He wanted them to have. He said, "Come unto Me." This was always the first, and still remains first. It led, and it leads, into rest of heart and life, peace with God. He quickly followed it with "Come ye after Me." They must come to Him before they could come after Him. This was found to mean discipleship, learning the road. He would "make" them like Himself in going after others. He said, "take My yoke upon you."This meant a bending down to get into the yoke, a surrender of will and heart to Himself, and then partnership, fellowship side-by-side with Himself.
Then He spoke another word to the innermost circle, on the night in which He was betrayed. He had a long talk that evening with the eleven around the supper table, and walking down to the grove of olives at the Brook of the Cedars. Several times that evening He used this new word, "abide," "abide in Me." That means staying with Him, not leaving, living continuously with Him. It means a continued separation from anything that would separate from Him. And then it means a fulness of life coming from Himself into us as we draw all our life from Himself, a rich ripeness, a rounded maturity, a depth of life, and these always becoming more,—richer, rounder, deeper.
Then after the awful days of the cross were past, on the evening of the resurrection day, in the upper room with ten of the inner disciples, He practically said, "You be Myself"; "as the Father sent Me, even so send I you"; "You be I." I wonder if any one of us has ever been taken or mistaken for the Lord Jesus. We would never know it, of course. But He meant it to be so.
A Scottish lady missionary in India tells of a Bible class of girls which she had. She was teaching them about the life and character of the Lord Jesus. One day a new girl came in, fresh from the heathenism in which she grew up, knowing nothing of the Gospel. She listened, and then became quite intense and excited in her childish way, as she heard them talking about some One, how good He was, how gentle, how He was always teaching and helping the people around Him. At last she could restrain her eagerness no longer, but blurted out, "I know that man; he lives near us." It was found that she did not know about Christ, but supposed they were speaking of a very earnest native Christian man living in her neighbourhood. She had mistaken her neighbour for Jesus. How glad that man must have been if he ever knew. This was a part of our Lord's plan.
And at the very end, these successive invitations took the shape of a command, which was both a permission and an order,—"Go ye." Men who had taken to heart, one after another, these invitations were ready for the command. They would be eager for it. The invitations were the Master's preparation for the command. He could trust such men to go, and to keep steady and true as they went, in the power He gave them. There is one word that you find in all these invitations—"Me." They all centre about the Lord Jesus. He is the centre of gravity drawing every one, in ever growing nearness and meaning, to Himself. It is only when we have been drawn into closest touch with Him that we are qualified to "go" to others. It's only Himself in us, only as much of Himself as is in us, that will be helpful to any one else, or will make any one else willing to break with his old way. He is the only magnet to draw men away from the old life up to Himself.
But there's one other invitation which belongs in this list. It proves to be the greatest of them all, because you come to find it includes all these others. It's His "Follow Me." It seems at first glance to be the same as that "Come after Me." But it is the word He repeated again and again, under different circumstances, with added explanations, to the same men, until you feel that He meant it to stand out as the great invitation to His disciples. It seems to mean different things at different times. That is to say, it grew in its significance. It came to mean more than it had seemed to.
Peter is a good illustration here. The word really came to him five times, with a different, an added, meaning each time. His first following meant acquaintance. John the Herald had sent his disciples, John and Andrew, along after Jesus as He was walking one day on the Jordan river road. They followed Jesus to their first acquaintance in a two hours' talk, which quite satisfied their hearts as to who He was. John never forgot that first following. Every detail of it stands out in his memory when long years after he began to write his story of the Master. Andrew went at once to hunt up Peter, and brought him face-to-face with his newly found Friend and Master. That interview settled things for Peter. Andrew's following now included his. Following meant the beginning of the personal friendship which was to mean so much for both of them.
It was about a year after, that "Follow Me" had a new meaning to Peter and some others. The invitation was an illustrated one this time, illustrated by a living picture of just what it meant. It was one morning by the Lake of Galilee. Peter and his partners had had a poor night's fishing, and were out on shore washing their nets. The Master had come along, with a great crowd pressing in to get closer and hear better. There was danger of the crowd pushing the Master into the water. The Master borrowed Peter's boat for a pulpit. Peter sat facing the crowd while the Master talked to them.
Was that the first time the spell of a crowd began to get its subtle heart-hold on Peter as he looked into their hungry eyes? Who can withstand the great appeal of the crowd's eyes? Not our Lord, nor any that have caught His spirit. Then the great draught of fishes, after the fishless night, made Peter feel the Master's power. Fishes would make him feel it, being a fisherman, as nothing else would. The sense of Jesus' power, and with it a sense of purity—interesting how the power made him feel the purity—this brought him to his knees at our Lord's feet with the confession of his own sinfulness.
Peter was greatly moved that morning, greatly shaken. A new experience of tremendous power had come to him. And out of it came a new life, a radical change as he left the old occupation, fishing, boats, father, means of livelihood, and entered upon the new life. "Follow Me" meant a radical change of life, constant companionship with Jesus, sharing His life, going to school, getting ready for leadership and service; yes, and for suffering too. He entered the Master's itinerant training school that morning. A man needs a sight of the Lord Jesus' power, a feel of it, before he is fit to serve, or even to go to school to get ready for service.
It was some months after this that another meaning grew into the words "Follow Me," and grew out of them. The words are not spoken this time, but acted. Out of the group of disciples that He had gathered about Him our Lord prayerfully chose out Peter with the others to be sent out as His messenger to others.Part of the schooling was over; now a new part, a new term of school, was to begin. He gave them a special talk that morning, and sent them out to teach and heal and do for the crowds what He had been doing.
He called them Apostles, Sent-ones, Missionaries. "Follow Me" now meant going to others. It meant more—power, power to do for men all the Master Himself had done. First, power felt that early morning by the lake, now power given. That was a great advance in training. Power had to be felt before it could be given, and has to be felt before it can be used. Only as the power takes hold of our inner hearts to the feeling point, will it ever take hold of others. And no life is changed through our service till power takes hold of us to the feeling point.
The Deeper Meaning.
But there was a special session of the "Follow Me" school one day, a very serious session.They had to be shown the red threads in the weave of the word. The words had to be held under the knife, so they could look into the cut, and see the deeper meaning. "Follow Me" had to take deeper hold of them yet, if His power was to get the deeper hold of them, and, by and by, get hold of the needy crowds. The very setting of the words gives the new meaning to them. John had felt the keen edge of Herod's axe blade, and was now in the upper presence. They were up in the far northern part because of the growing danger threatening Him by the leaders.
It is the turning point where our Lord Jesus begins to tell them that He was to suffer. Their ears could not take in the words. Their dazed eyes show that they think they could not have heard aright,—He to suffer! What could this mean? They hadn't figured on this when they left the nets and boats to follow. There had been a rosy glamour filling impulsive Peter's self-confident sky. Now this black storm cloud! Then to Peter's foolhardy daring came words spoken with a new intense quietness that made the words quiver: "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and 'Follow Me.'"
This was startling to a terrific degree. Here was a new, strange, perplexing combination—"deny himself," and "cross," coupled with His "Follow Me." What could He mean? This was surely some of His intensely figurative language again, they think. Yes, it surely was; and it stood for a yet intenser experience. "Follow Me" means sacrifice. It means a going down as well as a going up. And it proves to mean that one can go up in power and service, only as far as he has gone down in the obedience that includes sacrifice. Did Peter take in the meaning that day? I think not. Actions speak louder than words.
That betrayal night a few short months after, when the actual cross was almost in actual sight, he "followed Him afar off." Without knowing it, that was as far as he had ever really followed thus far. He wanted to keep as "far off" from that cross as possible. He always had. He baulked at its first mention, baulked tremendously. Yet he "followed." Poor Peter! he was in a terrible strait betwixt two, this wondrous Master whom he really loved, and this threatening cross of nails and thongs and thorns. It was a stiff struggle between heart and flesh; between the longing of his love and the shrinking from pain and hardship and shame. And Peter's kinsfolk are still having the same struggle. A great many stop here. This is going too far! They prefer staying by the easier "Follow Me's," and forgetting this one. Yes, and go on living powerless lives, and engaging in powerless service, when the crowds were never so needy.
Peter didn't follow this time. The road was too rough. He stumbled and fell badly. Badly? Still no worse than many others. When he got up he was still facing the same way. You can always tell a man's mettle by the way he faces as he gets up after a bad fall.
Six months or so after there came another "Follow Me," to Peter. No, it wasn't another; it was the same one, the one he hadn't accepted. Peter was to have another opportunity at the same place where he fell so badly. How patient our Lord Jesus was—and is.
It was one morning just after breakfast—a rare breakfast—on the edge of the lake, after as poor a night's fishing as that other time. Again the touch of power revealed the Master's presence. Again Peter had a special word with the Master while the others are hauling in the fish. Now breakfast's over and the seven are grouped about the One, listening. The Lord's quiet skilled hand touches the heart meaning of "Follow Me." Its real meaning is a love meaning. Do you love? Then "Follow Me." Then you must follow, your love draws you after, even though the path be rough and broken. This is the same "Follow Me" that Peter baulked at so badly months before. Its meaning had not changed. It would mean a death, Peter is plainly told. But now Peter baulks no longer. The Master's great love had taught Him how really to love. And now not even a cross for himself would or could keep him from following close up to such a Master.
Here is the meaning of "Follow Me" as it worked out in Peter's experience—acquaintance, a new life, schooling, service, a sight of sacrifice, and a baulking, then—a sight of Jesus on the cross, and then a willingness to go on even though it meant the sorest sacrifice. This is an etching of the road Peter actually went, an etching in black and white, with the black very black. Is it a picture of your road? But perhaps you have never filled out the last part—still back at that baulking place. In the thick of our present life, in the noise and din of the street of modern life, comes as of old the quiet, clear, insistent call "Follow Me."
Getting in Behind.
But, some one says, how can we really follow this Lone Man, our Lord Jesus Christ? He was so pure in His life, stainless in motive, and unstained in character. And we—well, the nearer we get to Him the more instinctively we find Peter's lakeshore cry starting up within, "I am a sinful man." His very presence makes us feel the sin, the sin-instinct, the old selfish something within. How can we really follow? And the answer that comes is a real answer. It answers the inner heart-cry.
It is this: we begin where He ended. The cross was the end of His life. It must be the beginning of ours. It was the climax of His obedience. All the lines of His life come together at the cross. It is the beginning for us. All the lines of our lives, the lines of purity, of character, of service, of power, run back to the one starting point. And we come to find—some of us pretty slowly—that it is only the lines that do start there that lead to anything worth while. The starting point for the true life, and for real service is very clear. And if any of us have made a false start, it will be a tremendous saving to drop things and go back and get the true start. "The blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth from all sin"—this is the only point from which to start the "Follow Me" life. "Follow Me" does not mean imitation. It means reincarnation. It's some One coming to re-live His life in us. He died that His life might be loosed out to be relived in us.
I have already spoken of this as being a call to friendship. All the rest that comes is meant to be what naturally grows out of this friendship. Peter never forgot his last "Follow Me" call. "Lovest thou Me?" Then thou mayest follow. This greatly sweetens all the rest. It's all for Him!—our friend. Out of this personal relation comes service, power in service, suffering because of opposition to Him whom we serve, and joy because we may suffer on His account.
Matthew became His friend that day down at the little customs-shed at the Capernaum water edge. And out of that friendship grew our first gospel. John lived very close, and out of his intimacy came the gospel that reveals to us most the inner heart of our Lord, and His own intimacy of relation with the Father. And out of that friendship came, too, not only John's wonderful little "abiding" epistle, but the Revelation book, which gives us an inkling of the coming in of the Kingdom time that lies so near to our Lord's heart. Out of such intimacy of touch grew Stephen's ringing address before the Jewish council, and—his stormy, stony exit, out and up into his Master's presence.
And time would fail me to tell of those in every corner of the earth, and every generation since our Lord was here, who have served and suffered because they loved Him and followed. Hidden away in the rocks and caves of France from the fires of persecution, the Huguenots sang their favourite hymn:
"I have a friend so precious, So very dear to me, He loves me with such tender love, He loves so faithfully.
I could not live apart from Him, I love to feel Him nigh, And so we dwell together, My Lord and I."
When I was in China a year ago, my heart caught some of the distant echoes of that sort of singing, by Chinese Christians, in the midst of the fiery persecutions of the Boxer time. And I heard the same sad, glad undertone last year out in Corea, in the homes we visited, whose loved ones were behind prison bars for their Friend's sake.
One of the latest chapters of this friendship's outcome is only just closed in the story of that quiet, young friend of the Lord Jesus, William Whiting Borden, who sat down a little while ago, and so placed the wealth left him that the world might learn of his Friend, and then went out and laid down his life in Egypt in this same passion of friendship. So the earth's sod in every corner has known the fertilizing of such friendship blood, and shall some day know a wondrous harvest under our great Friend's own gleaning.
And this is why He asks us to follow. He needs our help. Our Lord Jesus gave His precious life blood to redeem the world, to set it free from its sin-slavery. But there are two parts to that redemption, His and ours. These two parts are strikingly brought out by a single word in the beginning of the book of Acts, the word "began." Luke says that what he has been writing in his Gospel of the life and death of Jesus was only a beginning. This was what "He began both to do and to teach." It is usually explained that what our Lord Jesus began in the Gospels, the Holy Spirit continued to do in the Acts, and to teach in the Epistles. And this is no doubt true. But there is still more here. The Holy Spirit continued and continues through men what He began through Jesus. There is a second part to the work of redemption, our part, the Holy Spirit working through us. There had to be a first part; that was the great part. There could be no second without a first. That first part was done when our Lord Jesus was hurt to death for us. That is the great first part. Yet in doing that He had but begun something. He touched Palestine. We are to cover the earth. He touched one nation; we are to go to all nations. We are to continue what He began. The work of redemption was finished on the cross so far as He was concerned; but not yet finished so far as its being taken to "all the world" was concerned. He needs us. This is why He asks us to follow. He needs our co-operation.
The second great factor in carrying out what He began is—how shall I put it? Shall I say, men and the Holy Spirit? You say, "No, change that, say the Holy Spirit and men. Put the Spirit first." Well, the order of these two depends on where you are standing. If you are standing at the Father's right hand, you say "the Holy Spirit and men." For the power is all in the Holy Spirit. He is the power. There can be nothing done without Him. Whatever is done in which He is not dominant amounts to nothing. How I wish we men might have that tremendous fact grip us in these days when the whole emphasis is on organization.
But, very reverently let me say this, and I say it thus plainly that we may know how much our Lord Jesus is depending on us, how really He needs us,—this, that since we are on the earth, in the place of human action, where the fighting is to be done, it is accurate to say with utmost reverence, "men and the Holy Spirit." For mark keenly, the initiative is in human hands. God's action has always waited on human action. The power is only in the Holy Spirit. The most astute and strong leadership amounts to nothing without Him flooding it with His presence. But the power needs a channel. The Spirit needs men strongly pliant to His will. The great world-plan waits, and always has waited, for willing men. And so our great Friend asks us to follow because He really needs us in His plan.
Have you ever noticed the picture in the word "follow"? You remember that the earliest language was picture language. And it is a great help sometimes to dig down under a word and get the picture. Here, it is a man standing on a roadway, earnestly beckoning, and pointing to the road he is in. The Old Testament word means literally "same road." The very word the Master Himself used means "in behind."
To-night this wondrous Lord Jesus stands just ahead. His face still shows where the thorns cut and the thongs tore. But there is a marvellous tenderness and pleading in those great patient eyes. His hand is reached out beckoning, and you cannot miss the hole in the palm of it. The hand points to the road He trod for us. And His voice calls pleadingly, "Take this same road; get in behind. I need your help with My world."
And yet—and yet——. Do you remember one time our Lord turned to the crowds that were following and told them it would be better to count up the cost before deciding to be His disciples? He feared if they didn't there would be "mocking" by outsiders because His followers' lives didn't square with their profession. His fear seems to have been well founded. There seems to be quite a bit of that sort of mocking. It's better to count the cost, to know what following really means. A Salvation Army officer in Calcutta tells about a young handsome Hindu of an aristocratic family. One day he came in, drew out a New Testament, and asked the meaning of the words, "sell whatsoever thou hast," in the story of the rich young ruler. The Salvationist told him it meant that if a man's possessions stood in the way of his becoming a Christian he must be willing, if need be, to dispose of them for the needy. To his surprise the young man quietly said, "I fear you don't understand."
"Do you want to be a Christian?"
"Yes, but I'm not willing to sell all that I possess."
After a little more talk the young Indian left. Sometime after he appeared at one of the Salvation Army meetings, and when the opportunity was given for those who would accept Christ to kneel at the altar, at once he started forward. But instantly a storm broke out in the crowded meeting. A group of men rushed forward, shouting angrily, seized the young man and bore him bodily out while the crowd watched in terror. A few weeks later the young man turned up again, asking to be taken in and quietly saying, "I have begun to sell all."
Then his story came out. A Bible had come into his hands; the character and call of the Lord Jesus made a great appeal to him. He was haunted by the words, "sell whatsoever thou hast." He felt he knew what it meant for him. His family heard of his interest in Christianity. They belonged to the highest class, were wealthy and officially connected with the heathen temple-worship. They did their best to dissuade him, then finding that useless, they kept watch, and had him forcibly taken from the meeting where he was about to openly confess Christ. The entreaties of his father and mother shook him greatly but failed to change his decision. He had been imprisoned, chained hand and foot, and scantily fed, but all to no purpose. Then he managed to escape and came to the one Christian place he knew, the Salvation Army, and asked to be taken in.
After about two weeks he disappeared as abruptly as he came. Then one day he came back, and told his Salvation friend that he had been carried to Benares, their holy city, and forced to bathe in the Ganges. "But," he said, "as I stood in the water of the Ganges, I said, 'Lord Jesus, wash me in Thy precious blood,' and when I was forced to bow to idols, I bowed my soul to the eternal Father and said, 'Thou art God alone.'" His mother had implored him on her knees not to disgrace them; his tutor, whom he loved dearly, and his brothers had joined the father in their plea not to bring such shame on the family. "Well," the Salvationist said, "now, you know the meaning of 'sell whatsoever thou hast'" "Not yet," he said, "but I have sold nearly all."
Again he came back and said quietly, "I have sold all." He appeared deeply grief-stricken, and yet there was a light shining in his eye. In answer to questions he said, "I have not only ceased to be a Brahmin, I have ceased to be a human being. I am not only an outcast, I am dead. I have neither father, mother, brothers, nor sisters. I have been burned in effigy, and the ashes buried. It was not the effigy they burned; it was I. My father would not recognize me now if he met me on the street, nor would my mother. I am dead. I have been buried. It is the end. I have sold all." He had counted the cost. Then though it meant so much, he followed. The rich young Jew to whom the words were first spoken, saw things bigger than Jesus; the rich young Hindu saw Jesus bigger. Each held to what he prized most, and let the other go. Would it not be better if we were to count the cost, and then deliberately decide? and if it be to follow, then follow all the way? I want to talk a little later about what it means to follow. I hope this will help us a little in our calculations, in counting the cost before starting in to follow fully.
And yet, and yet, may the vision of the Lone Man in the road, beckoning, flood our eyes while we count the cost, even as with the young Hindu.
What Following Means
1. A Look Ahead. 2. The Main Road. 3. The Valleys. 4. The Hilltops.
1. A Look Ahead
The Lord Jesus never tried to make things look easier than they are. He wanted you to see the road just as it is, and asked you to look at it carefully. He knew this was the only right way to do. He knew that so the sinews would be grown in character that would stand the tests coming, and only so.
It was never His plan to increase the numbers by cutting down the doorsills so men could get in more easily. That was a later arrangement. He was never concerned for numbers, but for right and truth. A man walking alone down the middle of the one true path was more to Him, immensely more, than a great crowd wabbling along on the edge, half out, half in, neither in nor out, and so really out but not knowing it. If they were really out and knew it, it would be better, for they could see more distinctly the path they were not in, its straightness and attractiveness.