Quiet Talks on John's Gospel
S. D. Gordon
Everything depends on getting Jesus placed. That lies at the root of all—living, serving, preaching, teaching. John had Jesus placed. He had Him up in His own place. This settles everything else. Then one gets himself placed, too, up on a level where the air is clear and bracing, the sun warm, and the outlook both steadying and stimulating. Get the centre fixed and things quickly adjust themselves about it to your eyes.
It will be seen very quickly that this little book makes no pretension to being a commentary on, or an exposition of, John's Gospel. That is left to the scholarly folk who eat their meals in the sacred classical languages of the past. It is simply a homely attempt to let out a little of what has been sifting in these years past of this wondrous miniature Bible from John's pen.
The proportions of this homely little messenger of paper and type may seem a little odd at first. The longest chapter is devoted to only the opening eighteen verses of John, the prologue. While the whole of the first twelve chapters of John, excepting that prologue, is brought into one smaller chapter. It wasn't planned so, though I felt it coming as the wondrous mood of this book came down over me. I think it mast be the effect of the atmosphere of John's book.
Sometimes John packs so much in so little space, and again he goes so particularly into the details of some one incident. The prologue is a miniature Bible. The whole Bible story is there in its cream. And on the other hand John spends five chapters (xiii.-xvii.), almost a fifth of the whole, on a single evening. He devotes seven chapters (xiii.-xix.), almost a third of all, on the events of twenty-four hours. John is controlled not by mere proportion of space or quantity, but by the finer proportions of thought and quality.
It has been difficult to hold these homely talks down to the limit of space they take here. So many veins of gold in this mine, showing clearly large nuggets of pure ore, lie just at hand untouched in this little mining venture. But it seemed clearly best to get the one clear grasp of the whole. That helps so much. But there'll be strong temptation to get one's pick and spade and go at this gold mine again.
But now these things are written that we common folk may understand a bit better, and in a warm way, that Jesus was God on a wooing errand to the earth; and that we may join the blest company of the won ones, and become co-wooers with God of the others.
S. D. G.
I. John's Story
II. The Wooing Lover
Who it was that came.
III. The Lover Wooing
A group of pictures illustrating how the wooing was done and how the Lover was received.
IV. Closer Wooing
An evening with opening hearts: the story of a supper and a walk in the moonlight and the shadows.
V. The Greatest Wooing
A night and a day with hardening hearts: the story of tender passion and of a terrible tragedy.
VI. An Appointed Tryst Unexpectedly Kept
A day of startling joyous surprises.
VII. Another Tryst
A story of fishing, of guests at breakfast, and of a walk and talk by the edge of blue Galilee.
"I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes, I sped; And shot, precipitated, Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after."
—Francis Thompson, in "The Hound of Heaven."
"These are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name."—John xx. 31.
The Heart-strings of God.
There's a tense tugging at the heart of God. The heart-strings of God are tight, as tight as tight can be. For there's a tender heart that's easily tugged at one end, and an insistent tugging at the other. The tugging never ceases. The strings never slack. They give no signs of easing or getting loose.
It's the tug of man's sore need at the down-end, the man-end, of the strings. And it's the sore tug of grief over the way things are going on down here with men, at the other end, the up-end, the heart-end, of the strings. It's the tense pull-up of a love that grows stronger with the growth of man's misunderstanding.
But the heart-strings never snap. The heart itself breaks under the tension of love and grief, grieved and grieving love. But the strings only strengthen and tighten under the strain of use.
Those heart-strings are a bit of the heart they're tied to, an inner bit, aye the innermost bit, the inner heart of the heart. They are the bit pulled, and pulled more, and pulled harder, till the strings grew. Man was born in the warm heart of God. Was there ever such a womb! Was there ever such another borning, homing place!
It was man's going away that stretched the heart out till the strings grew. The tragedy of sin revealed the toughness and tenderness of love. For that heart never let go of the man whom it borned. Man tried to pull away, poor thing. In his foolish misunderstanding and heady wilfulness he tried to cut loose. If he had known God better he would never have tried that. He'd never have started away; and he'd never have tried to get away.
For love never faileth. A heart—the real thing of a heart, that is, God's heart—never lets go. It breaks; but let go? not once: never yet. The breaking only loosens the red that glues fast with a tighter hold than ever. The fibre of the heart—God's heart—is made of too strong stuff to loosen or wear out or snap. Love never faileth. It can't; because it's love.
Now all this explains Jesus. It was man's pull on these heart-strings that brought Him down. The pull was so strong and steady. It grew tenser and more insistent. And straight down He came by the shortest way, the way of those same heart-strings. For the heart-strings of God are the shortest distance between two given points, the point of God's giving, going love, and the point of man's sore need, given a sharper-pointed end by its very soreness.
It is a sort of blind pull, this pull of man on the heart of God; a confused, unconscious, half-conscious, dust-blinded, slippery-road sort of pulling, but one whose tight grip never slacks. Man needs God, but does not know it. He knows he needs something. He feels that keenly. But he does not know that it's God whom he needs, with a very few rare exceptions. It doesn't seem to have entered his head that he'll never get out of his tight corner till God gets him out.
Down the street of life he goes, eyes blinded by the thick dust, ears deafened by the cries of the crowd, by the noise of the street without, and the noise of passions and fevered ambitions within, heart a-wearied by the confusion of it all, groping, stumbling, jostled and jostling, hitting this way and that, with the fever high in his blood, and his feet aching and bleeding; sometimes the polish of culture on the surface; sometimes rags and dirt; but underneath the same thing.
Yet under all there's a vague but very real feeling of that unceasing pull upward upon His heart-strings. But though blind and vague and confused that tugging is never the less tense, but ever more, and then yet more.
Jesus was God answering the tug of man's need on His heart-strings. And so naturally there was an answering feel in man's heart. Man felt the answer a-coming. There was a great stir in the spirit-currents of earth when Jesus came. A thrill of expectancy ran through the world, Roman, Greek, Barbarian, far and wide, as Jesus drew near. The book-makers of that time all speak of it. It was the vibration of those same heart-strings connecting man and God.
The move at God's end was felt at man's. The coming down along the highway of the strings thrilled and stirred and awed the hearts into which those strings led, and where they were so tightly knotted. The earth-currents spread the news. Man heard; he felt; he knew: vaguely, blindly, wearily, yet very really he heard and felt and recognized that help, a Friend, some One, was nearing.
And then when Jesus walked among men how He did pull upon their hearts! So quietly He went about. So sympathetically He looked and listened. So warm was the human touch of His hand. So strong was the lift of His arm to ease their load. So potent was the spell of His unfailing power to give relief. How He did pull! And how men did answer to that pull! Unresistingly, eagerly, as weary child in mother's arms at close of day, they came crowding to Him.
The Fourfold Message.
It is fascinating to find one book in this old Book of God given up wholly to telling of this, John's Gospel. Of course the whole of the Book is really given up to it, when one gets the whole simple view of it at one glance. But so many of us don't get that whole simple glance.
So to make it easier for us simple common folk, and to make sure of our getting it, there is one little book, hardly big enough to call a book, just a few pages devoted wholly to letting us see this one thing. You can see the whole of the sun in a single drop of water. You can see the whole of the Book of God in this one little book that John wrote.
John's Gospel is like the small tracing of the artist's pen on the lower corner of an etching, the remarque, put there as a signature, the artist's personal mark that the picture is genuine, the real thing. The whole consummate skill of the artist is revealed at a glance in the simple outline-tracing on the margin. The whole of the God-story in the larger picture of the whole Book is given in few simple clear lines in this exquisite little thing commonly called John's Gospel.
It is striking to make the discovery that John's little book has a distinctive message as a book. It is full of messages, of course. But I mean that there is a distinct story told by the book as a whole, by the very way it is put together. It is told by the very sort of language used, the words chosen as the leading words of the book. It is told by the picture that clearly fills John's eye as he writes, and by the very spirit that floods the pages as a soft light, and that breaks out of them as the subtle fragrance of locust blossoms in the spring.
The fragrance of flowers cannot be analyzed: it must be smelled and felt. That's the only way you'll ever know it. The fine scholarly analyses of John are helpful. But there's the subtler something that cannot be diagramed or analyzed or synthesized. It eludes the razor-edged knife, and the keenly critical survey. It is recognized only by one's spirit, and then only when the spirit is warm, and in tune with John's.
Of course each of the Gospel stories has a message of its own, quite apart from the group of facts common to them all. And these four messages together give us the fuller distinctive message of these four little books. And a very winsome message it is, too, that takes hold of one's heart, and takes a warm strong hold at that.
Matthew tells us that Jesus is a King. For a great purpose He chose to live as a peasant, as one of the common folks. But He was of the blood royal. He has the long unbroken kingly lineage. He showed kingly power in His actions, kingly wisdom in His teachings, and the fine kingly spirit in His gracious kindliness of touch. He was gladly accepted and served as King by those who understood Him best. He was acknowledged as King by the Roman Governor; and He died as a King, and as a King was laid in a newly hewn tomb.
Mark adds a fine touch to this picture, a warm touch with colour in it,—this King of ours is a serving King. This comes not only with a warm feel, but it comes as a distinct surprise. Men's kings are served kings. There have been kings, and are, who rendered their people a fine high service, and do. But the overpowering impression given the common crowd watching on the street is that kings are superior beings, to be waited upon, humbly bowed to, and implicitly obeyed. They are to be served.
Bat Mark's picture shows us a King whose passion is to serve. The service which He draws out of His followers is drawn out by His warm serving spirit towards us. The words on the royal coat-of-arms are, "Not to be ministered unto, but to minister." And in the first meaning of the words He Himself used that means "not to be served but to serve." In Mark the air is tense with rapid action. The quick executive movement of a capable servant is felt in the terse words short sentences and swift action of the story.
There's yet warmer colouring in Luke's picture. This serving King is nearest of kin to us! He is not only of the blood royal, but of the blood human. He is bone of our bone, blood of our blood, and life of our common life. He came to us through a rare union of God's power with human consent and human function, never known before nor repeated since. This is the bit that Luke adds to the composite message of these four little God-story books.
Here Jesus has a tenderness of human sympathy with us men, for He and we are brothers. There's an outlook as broad as the race. No national boundaries limit its reach. No sectional prejudices warp or shut Him off from sympathetic touch with any. He shares our common life. He knows our human temptations, and knows them with a reality that is painful, and with an intensity that wets His brow and shuts His jaw hard.
This king who serves is a man. He can be a king of men for He is a man. He has the first qualification. I might use an old-fashioned word in the first old-time meaning,—He is a fellow, one who shares the bed and bread of our common experience. And so He is kin to us, both in lineage and in experience, in blood and in spirit.
And John's share in this partnership message adds a simple bold touch of colouring that makes the picture a masterpiece, the masterpiece. This King who serves, and is nearest of kin to us, is also nearest of kin to God. He is not only of the blood royal, and the blood human, but of the blood divine. He was with God before calendars came into use. He was the God of that creative Genesis week. He came on an errand down to the earth, and when the errand was done, and well done, He went back home, bearing on His person the marks of His fidelity to the Father's errand. This is John's bit of rich high colouring.
And so we are nearest of kin to God through Jesus. Kinship is always a matter of blood. There is a double kinship, through the blood of inheritance, and the blood of sacrifice. Our inherited kinship of blood has been lost. But His blood of sacrifice has made a new kinship. We had broken the entail of our inheritance clean beyond mending. We were outcasts by our own act. But He cast in. His lot with us, and so drew us back and up and in. He made a new entail through His blood. And that new entail is as unbreakable as the old broken one is unmendable. And so we come into the family of a King. And we are kingliest in character when we are Christliest in spirit and action. We are most like the King when we are helping others.
Our true motto, in our relation to our fellows, is: "I am among you as he that serveth." Towel and basin, bended knee and comforted pilgrim-feet and refreshed spirit,—this is our family crest. We're kin to all the race through Jesus. Black skin and white, yellow and brown; round heads and long, slanting eyes and oval, in slum alley and palatial home, below the equator and above it,—all are our kinsmen.
We are reaching highest when we are stooping lowest to help some one up. We're nearest like God in character when we're getting nearest in touch to those needing help. We are kingliest and Godliest and Christliest when we're controlled by men's needs, but always under the higher control of the Holy Spirit.
This is the composite message of the four Gospels; and this is its practical human outworking.
God on a Wooing Errand.
But it's the other John message we are especially after just now. There's another message of John's book quite distinct from this, though naturally allied with it. And this other is the crowding message of his book. Its thought crowds in upon you till every other is crowded into second place. And as it gets hold of you it crowds your mind and heart and life till every other is either crowded out, or crowded to a lower place; out, if it jars; lower place, if it agrees, for every agreeing bit yields to the lead of this tremendous message.
But one must get hold of John before John's message gets hold of him. John was swayed by a passion. It was a fiery passion flaming through all his life. It burned through him as the fierce forest fire burns through the underbrush. Every base thing was eaten up by its flame. Every less worthy thing came under its heat. It melted and mellowed and moulded his whole being.
It was the Jesus-passion. It was kindled that memorable afternoon early in his life down in the Jordan bottoms. John's namesake, the Herald, applied the kindling match. From then on the flames never flickered nor burned low. They increased steadily, and they increased in purity, until his whole life was under their holy heat.
John didn't always understand his Master. Sometimes he misunderstood. But he never failed in his trust of Him, nor in his fidelity to Him. Of the chosen inner circle John was the one who remained true through the sorest test, that betrayal-night test. Judas betrayed; Peter denied; the nine fled in terror down the road to save their cowardly lives; John went in "with Jesus." That fiery nature of his, that early won for him the stormy name "son of thunder," came completely under the sway of this holier tenderer stronger flame, and burned itself out in a passion of love for Jesus.
The Jesus-passion swayed John completely. This explains the man, and his career. It explains this little book of his ripe old age. And only this can. One must read the book through John's own heart, then he begins to understand it. This Jesus-passioned man is the key to the book, the human key.
And the distinctive message of the book is simply this: Jesus was God on a wooing errand to the earth. That simple sentence covers fully all that is found in John's twenty-one chapters. Every line in these fourteen or fifteen pages can be traced back into that brief statement.
Indeed this becomes an outline of the book. See: in the opening paragraphs the wooing Lover is coming down to earth. In the first twelve chapters the Lover is pleading winsomely and earnestly for acceptance. Then He is seen in closest touch with the inner group of those who have accepted, opening His heart yet more, wooing still closer. Then comes the last tragic pleading, pleading in intensest action, with those who persist in rejecting. And then the last close heart-touches with the inner circle.
The Water-Mark of John's Gospel.
The very words John so thoughtfully chooses as his leading words bear the distinct impress of this, like the sharply indented stamp of the mint on the new coin. Two such words stand out above all others, "believe" and "witness." The first actually occurs oftenest, sounding out like the dominant chord of music running throughout a symphony. The second is like the chief warp-thread into which the fabric is being woven.
The two words are really twins, born at the same time, of the same mother. They grow up together and work in perfect accord. The witnessing is that men may understand and believe. It's the servant leading up to the belief that shall become the mastering thing. The belief is servant, too, in turn, leading up to the witnessing that becomes the mastering passion in those who believe.
These words are worth digging into for the fine gold that lies hidden within waiting the miner's pick. The word "believe" is a nugget of pure gold, whether you take our English word or John's word lying underneath. The underneath word, that John uses in his own mother tongue, runs a sliding scale of meaning.
It's a ladder rising from bottom round to topmost. It means to be persuaded that a thing is true; then to place confidence in it, to trust. And trust always contains the idea of risk. The heart-meaning always is that you risk something very precious to you, risk it to the point of heart-breaking disaster if your trust proves wrong.
Our English word is of very close kin. It runs the same sort of sliding scale, from something valuable and precious in itself, on to something that satisfies you regarding the matter in hand. You are not only satisfied but pleased, content. And so there is the same trusting and risking, the same leaning your whole weight upon the thing. Deep down at its root, believe is a close kinsman to love. They both spring out of the same warm creative womb.
When we dig a bit into that word believe in the usage of common life it means three distinct things, each leading straight into the other,—knowledge, belief, trust. That is, facts, facts accepted, facts trusted in regard to something that takes hold of your life. You hear something. You believe it's true. But there must be the third thing, risking something valuable. There's no belief in the heart-meaning without this thing of risking. The trust that risks is the life blood of faith. The rest is only the bony skeleton with tendons and sinews and flesh. There's no life without the blood. There's no belief without trust.
And the word witness is the same pure-gold sort of nugget, assaying full weight. John's native word and our own are just the same in meaning. Their meaning is to tell what you know. We shall be running across this word again, and digging a bit deeper into it. But this is the thing that stands out in it. You tell something that you yourself know. There's personal knowledge. There's a telling some one else this thing you know. And yet more, there's the purpose in the telling, that others may know what you know, and get all the good that comes with knowing it.
The witnessing is that others may believe. It is a striking thing in John that the thought of witness is more common than the word. The word occurs several times, and always in a leading way. But the thought of witnessing is the colouring of every page, and the chief colouring.
I said that these two words were twins, born at the same time, of the same mother. That warm-hearted brooding mother is the word wooing. Originally wooing means bending towards, inclining forward or reaching out towards another. And the purpose of the reaching out is to get the other to reach forward towards you. And that purpose puts the warm feel into the reaching out.
All words were pictures first. Here in this word wooing is a picture, by one of the old masters, waiting to be restored, with all the dusty accumulations of the years carefully removed. And here's the picture: a man standing, with the light of the morning shining in His eyes, body bending forward, hands reaching out, with an eagerness, an expectancy in every line of His body, and tender love glowing out of His face, and sounding in the very tones with which the voice is calling.
This picture is really the water-mark on the paper of John's Gospel. Hold up the paper of John's Gospel to the light. The best light for the purpose is found on Mount Calvary. High altitudes have clearer light. You see more distinctly. Now look. Hold still that you may see all the outlines more distinctly. There's the form of a Man standing in pleading attitude, with outstretched hands. His face combines all the fineness of the finest woman's face, with all the strength of the strongest man's, and more, immensely more, all the purity and tenderness and power of God's face. It is God Himself in human form coming a-wooing to earth, and we call His name Jesus. This conception is the very atmosphere of John's Gospel.
Jesus is the witness of the Father to men. He knew the Father. He knew Him by closest intimacy. He lived with Him. He came down to tell what He knew. He wanted others to know too. He wanted them to know even as He knew. Telling is the whole of Jesus; telling men of the Father.
His mere presence, His character, His warm sympathy, His practical helpfulness, His words, His actions, most of all His dying and His rising, all these were a telling, a witnessing, a wooing; telling the Father's love, telling the damnableness of our sin by giving His very life blood to get it out of us; so telling us how we might really know the mother-heart of the Father.
Jesus the Dividing Line.
There are several contrasts between the first three Gospels and John's. It is very striking to notice one in particular in this connection. One reading the first three Gospels for the first time is impressed with the fact of Jesus' rejection. This stands out peculiarly and dominantly. It was the great fact, told most terribly in the death of Jesus. It was the thing that stood out sharpest in the generation to which Jesus belonged, the generation for whom these three Gospels were written at the first.
But John wrote his story for an after-generation, a generation that had not known the man Jesus by personal touch and observation. And so it was for all after-generations. And John makes it very clear that Jesus was rejected, and accepted.
He was indeed rejected; that fact stands out as painfully here as in the others. He was rejected by the little inner clique that held the national reins, and held them with fevered tenacity, and drove hard. And the reason for it is made to stand out as plainly as the fact. The envy and jealousy, the intense bitterness and viciousness and devilish obstinacy back of the rejection stand as boldly out to all eyes as to Pilate's.
But the other side stands out sharply too. Jesus was accepted. He was accepted by all classes, by the cultured, and the scholarly, by thoughtful studious leaders and officials of the nation. He was accepted by the great middle classes and by those in lowest scale socially, and by the moral outcasts. Intense Hebrews, Roman officials of high rank, half-breed Samaritans, and men of outside nations group themselves together by their full acceptance of Jesus.
He was listened to, doubted, questioned, discussed, thought over, and then accepted. And He was accepted with a faith and with a love that counted not suffering nor sacrifice for the sake of Him whom they believed and trusted and loved. John makes this clear, rejected and accepted.
Jesus divided the crowds. Down the road He comes, with quiet strength, witnessing to the great simple truth of the Father's pure strong wooing love. And the crowd looks and listens and—divides. Some reject; clearly they are a minority, but entrenched in a position of power that proves quite sufficient for their purpose. Though it took all the power at their command to carry out their purpose.
Others accept. These are the crowds, the majority. Some don't understand. Their motives are selfish or mixed, like some other folks' motives. Some are played upon by the cunning of the leaders and swung away. But there remain the thoughtful ones whose faith goes from weakness to strength; it grows from more to yet more. It mellows from a true simple faith to a deepened, seasoned, sorely-tested, surely-toughened faith that loves, loves clear down to the roots, and endures gladly. This is the simple warp-thread into which John's very simple story of Jesus is woven.
I want to give you a bunch of keys, as we start into these homely talks in John's Gospel. They are simple keys. Any one can use them. They fit easily and smoothly into every lock, the lock of your life, the lock of any circumstance, any sore problem that may come up to baffle all your efforts. They bring treasures within easy reach. They open up the way into all you need. There is a key to God, a key to the Book of God, and then there are three keys to this little John book.
The key to God is in one little word. It has two spellings, sometimes with four letters, sometimes with five, and both correct spellings. The four-lettered spelling is for all the world. The five-lettered spelling is chiefly used in the western half of the earth, and along certain lines and in certain spots here and there in the eastern half where the word is known.
That first spelling is l-o-v-e. God is love. Love is of God. God is always controlled by a purpose in all His dealings with the race, and with you and me. There is no chance-happening with Him, no caprice, no shadow in His path that tells of His being swerved aside, by anything we do, from a steady purpose.
And that controlling purpose is always a purpose of love. It's a purpose of strong steady pure clinging brooding love. The bother is we don't know what that word love means; none of us. We know words but not the real things they stand for. We don't know the real thing of love because we don't know the real thing of God. If we knew, oh! if we but knew it—Him—how that simple statement would melt us down, and mellow us through, and mould us all over anew!
That's the shorter spelling. It is the universal spelling. That love is being spelled out to all the race by every twinkling star in the upper blue, every shade of green in the lower brown, by every cooling shading night, and every fragrantly dewy morning. Every breath of air and bite of food and draught of water is repeating God's spelling lesson. These are the pages in God's primer. So we all may learn to spell out God. And so we get the right spelling of our own lives.
Then there's the other spelling, the five-lettered, J-e-s-u-s. It's the same thing, only spelled differently; spelled in a yet better way. The spelling grows bigger to us when Jesus comes. When we know Him it takes more to spell out and to tell out God's love. God grows larger to our eyes as He comes walking among us as Jesus. No, He doesn't grow larger. We simply begin to find out how large He is.
This is the closer, more human spelling. The letters are nearer and seem bigger as they come walking down the street where we live, and knock at our own door. They're easier spelled out. We can get hold of them better. Love is a thing, we think. Jesus is a person. It's so different to touch a person. But when we know, we know that both spellings tell the same thing. So far, only about a third of us have heard anything about this second, this closer spelling. Two out of three haven't heard about it yet. But those who really know this spelling are eager for the others to get it, too.
God is always controlled by a great simple purpose in thinking of you and me. And it is an unfailing purpose of strong tender love. This is the first key. Any one may take it and use it. It is unfailing. It will fit every lock. It unlock every problem. It will open up the riches to any life. They're brought within easy reach of any hand by the steady use of this key.
This is the key to God. It unlocks the doors and lets Him freely into our lives. Then we find out how much truer it is than we can understand.
Then there's the key to the Book of God. There are many keys here, of course. Daily time alone with the Book, thoughtful reading, prayer, some simple plan, putting into your life what has been put in its pages,—these are all good keys. But there's a master-key, the master-key. It is simply this: glad surrender of will to the God of the Book. I mean a strong intelligent yielding to His mastery in all of one's plans and life. The highest act of the strongest will is yielding to a higher will when you find it. And you find the higher, the highest, will here.
This is the master-key. Bending the will affects eyes and ears and mind. The hinges of eye and ear are in the will. As the will bends those hinges move of themselves. Eye and ear and mind open. The lower the will bends, the more fully and habitually, the more will eyes and ears open, the keener and more alert will be the mental processes, the more intelligent the understanding. And there comes to be a continual mutual shifting. With better understanding can come stronger more intelligent yielding of will, and so again clearer light.
And it is striking to discover that there's a practical connection between the joints of the knees and the joint of the will. The bending of knees to a sharp right angle affects the will. It is easier to bend it. It bends better and more. And this grows. The habitual bending of the knees helps make habitual and stronger and more intelligent the bending of the will.
This is the master-key to the Book of God. It opens every lock and page. It opens us to the Book, and opens the Book to us. It frees out to us the wondrous Spirit who is in these pages. And so through the opened Book there come to be the direct touch with the God of the Book. We don't come to the Book merely; we come through it to Him who comes through it to us. This is the second key in this bunch.
Now, I want to give you the three keys to John's Gospel. There's a back-door key, a side-door key, and a front-door key. These keys hang outside the doors, low down, that so any one who wants to can easily reach up, and get them. And if used faithfully and simply they will be found to unlock every page and line and difficult question.
The back-door key hangs right at the back door. It is the very last verse of chapter twenty. That really was the last chapter at first. The thought of the book comes to a close there. The story is complete. Then the Holy Spirit led John to add a little, a second last-chapter, an added touch for good measure. Love is never content. It is always adding more.
Here is the key: "these are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life through His name." This was John's whole thought in telling the Jesus-story. The practical gripped him wholly and hard. This is the thing that guides his selection of incidents. This purpose shapes the shape of the book. It explains everything told, and just why it is told in just the way it is told.
John lets Jesus walk before our eyes fresh from His Father's presence. The mere fact of His presence, the winsomeness of His personality, the clearness of His teaching, the power of His actions, the uncompromising purity of His character amidst sin-stained crowds and sin-dirtied surroundings, the unflinching rigidity of His ideals, the persuasiveness of His very manner and tone of speech, the patience and gentleness, the rugged granite strength, the mother tenderness, above all the willingness to suffer so terribly,—all this is a plea, a tremendous overpowering plea, all the stronger because presented so simply and briefly. Jesus is a Lover and this is His wooing.
And John's one thought in writing is the same as the one thought in the Lover's heart. John has become simply an echo of Jesus. It is this, that you, whoever you are, wherever, whatever, that you may believe. You look and listen, question, puzzle a bit maybe, but keep on listening and looking, thinking, weighing, till you are clear these things are just so as John tells them. Yon accept them as trustworthy. Then you accept Him, Jesus, as He comes to you, your wooing Lover, your Lover-God, your Saviour and Lord.
You believe: that is you love. The grammar of the word works itself out inside you thus,—believe, trust, love. The truth comes in through eyes and ears and feeling, into brain and will; through emotion clear down into your heart. You love. You cannot help yourself. You love Him, Jesus, the One so lovable.
John says that you may believe. It is possible. It is the reasonable intelligent thing to do after such a presentation. John makes it easy for us to believe. His telling of the story is so strong and convincing, though so simple and short, that believing is the natural thing. Jesus Himself, as He conies to us through John's eyes and speech, is so believable, so trustworthy, so lovable.
Now we may believe. It's the thing to do after a thoughtful kneeful study of the case as put by John. We may believe clear into and through intellect and emotions and will, right down into the depths of heart and love, clear out into every action of the life.
And John sweeps in the whole crowd of the world in the way he puts it here. Listen: "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ." That was for the Jew peculiarly in the first instance. The Jew had been taught through generations that there was One coming who was God's chosen One for the Hebrew nation. He was the Anointed One. The Hebrew said Messiah. The Greek said Christ. Both mean the same, the One chosen of God, anointed by Him as the King and Leader of His chosen people, and through them of all the race.
Listen further: "that Jesus is the Son of God." That is for all of us, Jew and foreigner, insider and outsider. This Jesus is in a distinctive sense the Son of God, the only begotten Son. This pure loving pleading wooing suffering dying rising-again Jesus, this is the only begotten Son of the Father. All there is in a Father comes to, and is in, an only begotten son. This is God Himself coming to us in His Son.
Once let this sift into thought and heart, then who would not believe, and trust, and love, and fall on his face in the utter devotion of a voluntary slave before such a God!
And so believing, trusting, loving, touching, His life flows in and fills up and floods out. We have it now. That word eternal, used so often by John with the word life, is not a mere length word. It is not a calendar word. It tells the sort of life, the quality of life, that comes in through the opening door of our believing. This is John's back-door key, but it lets you clear in through the whole house.
Then there is the side-door key. It hangs at the side, a bit towards the back. It is in the Thursday night talk, as we commonly call it, that last heart-talk with the inner group on the betrayal night. It is in chapter sixteen, verse twenty-eight: "I came out from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go unto the Father."
Run through this Gospel with that fresh in your mind, and it is perfectly fascinating to find how much like a magnet it is, picking out to itself so many bits from the Master's lips that fit exactly into it. Jesus' constant thought was that He used to be with the Father; He came down on an errand to the earth. By and by when the errand was done He would go back home again.
This sentence becomes a simple, exact, comprehensive outline of the entire Gospel. Notice: "I came out from the Father": that is chapter one, verses one to eighteen. There Jesus is seen coming down from His Father's own presence. Then chapter one, verse nineteen through to the close of the twelfth chapter is fully described and covered by the next clause, "and am come into the world." Here He is seen in the world, in the midst of its crowds and contentions and oppositions.
"Again, I leave the world,"—chapters thirteen to nineteen. In chapters thirteen to seventeen He is tenderly leaving the inner circle. In chapters eighteen and nineteen He is going out of the world by the terrible doorway of the cross it had carpentered for Him. How quietly He says the words, though the terrible going is yet to come, and is now so near that He can already feel the shame and the thorns and the nails.
And as quietly He looks beyond and adds, "and go unto the Father." In chapters twenty and twenty-one He lingers a little for the sake of these being left behind, but His face is already turned homeward. They would hold Him in their midst. He quietly tells them that He is going back home to the Father to get things ready for them, as He had said.
He Comes to His Own.
The front-door key hangs right at the very front, outside, low down, where even a child's hand can reach it. It is in chapter one, verses eleven and twelve: "He came unto His own, and they that were His own received Him not. But as many as received Him to them gave He the right to become children of God, even to them who believe on His name." This is the great key, the chief key to this whole house. It flings the front door wide open and you are inside at once, and take in the whole of the house at a glance, one glance, one wonderful glance.
The first twelve chapters tell of Jesus coming to His own, His own nation, humanly, racially, His own chosen people. He is coming steadily and persistently, in spite of rebuffs; coming patiently, tenderly, earnestly; coming ever closer in the ever increasing measure of divine power seen in His actions.
And continually, persistently, He is being rejected and accepted. He is rejected silently and contemptuously, then aggressively and bitterly, viciously and murderously. "His own received Him not." But many received Him, eagerly and warmly and thoughtfully. They received Him with a growing depth of conviction and deepening tenderness of love. And as they come, He is ever receiving them, giving them that touch of new life that marks only the children of God.
In chapters thirteen to seventeen He is receiving into closer fellowship those who have received Him, and at the same time wooing them into yet closer touch. The story of the trial and crucifixion in chapters eighteen and nineteen, puts the most terrific emphasis on the words, "received Him not." They not only keep Him out of His own possessions, but do their worst in putting Him out of life. And the little book closes in its last two chapters with His receivers being received into the sweetest intimacies of tested triumphant love and into the inner secrets of rarest resurrection power.
This is the most heart-breaking of all of John's heart-breaking sentences. John had a hard time writing this Gospel of his. He was not simply writing a book; that might have been fairly easy. But he was telling about a friend of his, the friend of his life, his one dearest Friend. And when he remembers how they treated Him his eyes fill up, and his heart beats till it thumps, and his quill sticks into the paper in sheer reluctance to tell the story.
I think likely in the original manuscript, John's own first copy, the writing was a bit shaky and uneven here. The dew of his wet eyes drops and blurs the words a bit as he puts down, "He came to His own, and . . they who were His own . . received . . Him . . not."
One day a young student was crossing the quadrangles of one of the old Scottish Universities towards his quarters in the dormitory. He was not feeling well. His eyes had troubled him and made his work very difficult. On the advice of a friend he sought the judgment of an expert in the treatment of the eyes. The specialist made a very thorough examination and then informed the young student tactfully but plainly that he would lose his eyesight, surely and not slowly.
Lose his eyesight? A sudden terrific actual blow between his eyes could not have stunned his body more than this stunned brain and heart. Lose his eyesight! All his plans and coveted ambitions seemed slipping clean out from his grasp. With the loss of eyes would go the loss of university training, and so of all his dreams. Dazed, blinded, he groped his way rather than walked out of the physician's office.
His life was to be joined with another's. And now he turned his distracted steps towards her home, hungry doubtless for some word or touch of comfort for his sore heart. And he was thinking, too, that with this utter break-up of the future she must be told. And as he talked he said in quiet manly words that under these unexpected circumstances, and the radical change in his prospects, she must be free to do as she thought best.
And she took her freedom! Yet she was a woman. And a woman's mission is to teach man love by the real thing of love, by being it herself, and drawing it out into full flower in him. That was the second staggering blow. A second time he groped his dazed way out of the house, down the street, into his lone student quarters.
But another One was near, brooding over him, and tenderly holding his breaking heart, and speaking words of warm comfort, and breathing in the freshing breath of true love. And as he yielded to this it overcame all else. A new mood came and dominated. And it became the fixed thing mastering all his life. Now he sits down, and out of his torn bleeding but newly-touched heart writes the words we have all learned to sing:
"O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee, I give Thee back the life I owe, That in thine ocean depths its flow May richer, fuller be.
"O Light that followest all my way, I yield my flickering torch to Thee; My heart restores its borrowed ray That in Thy sunshine's glow its day May brighter, fairer be.
"O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, And feel the promise is not vain That morn shall tearless be.
"O Cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to hide from Thee; I lay in dust life's glory dead, And from the ground there blossoms red Life that shall endless be."
And with but a single change, the change of a word or two in one line, they stand as at first written. I suppose his biographer omitted the incident for the same reason that the first three Gospels may have omitted the incident of Lazarus while he was still living. So there was a sheltering from personal embarrassment.
He came to his own and his own received him not. He—Jesus came to His own and they that were His own received Him not. Aye, there's more to add: He comes to His own—you and me—to-day. And His own—
You and I must finish that sentence, each in his own way. And we will; and we do. We may copy out in our lives just what these men of old did as told by John. Some of us do. We may do some fine revision work on the text of John's version as we translate it now into the experience of our own hearts, and into the life of our own lives. That's the only way to understand the next sentence about being taken into the family of God and sharing the fullness of life that is common there.
And this bit that is put down here is only a bit of copy work. These things are talked and written only that we may be given a lift into closer touch of heart and life with the Christ, the Son of God, and the Brother and Saviour of men.
The Wooing Lover
Who it Was that Came
"But with unhurrying chase, And unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat—and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet— 'All things betray thee, who betrayest Me'"
—"The Hound of Heaven."
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."
—Rev. iii. 20.
The Wooing Lover
(John i. 1-18.)
In His Own Image.
Love gives. It gives freely and without stint, yet always thoughtfully. It gives itself out, its very life. This is its life, to give its life. It lives most by giving most. So it comes into fullness of life.
So it gets. A thing of life, in its own image, comes walking eagerly with outstretched arms to its embrace. It gives that it may get. Yet the giving is the greater. It brings most joy.
This is the very essence of life, this giving creating spirit. It is everywhere, in lower life and higher and highest, wherever the touch of God has come. The sun gives itself out in life and light and warmth. And out to greet it comes a bit of itself—the fine form and sweet fragrance of the rose, the tender blade of grass, the unfolding green of the leaf, the wealth of the soil, the song of the bird and the grateful answer of all nature.
The hen sits long patient days on her nest. And forth comes cheeping life in her own image, answering the call of her mothering spirit. The mother-bird in the nest in the crotch of the tree gives her life day by day in brooding love. And her wee nestling offspring, in her own image, answers with glad increase of strength and growth.
Father and mother of our human kind give of their very life that new life may come. And under the overshadowing touch of an unseen Presence comes a new life made in their image, and in His who broods unseen over all three. And over the life wrecked by sin broods the Spirit of God. And out through the doorway of an opening will, comes a new creature of winsome life in the very image of that brooding Spirit of God.
This is the holy commonplace of all life. It is the touch of God. It is everywhere about us, and beneath and above. The father-mother Spirit of God broods over all our common life. And when things go wrong, He broods a bit closer and tenderer. He meets every need of the life He has created. And He meets it in the same way, by giving Himself.
And there's always the response. The fragrance of the rose answers the sun. The pipped shell brings the longed-for answer to the gladdened mother-bird. The ever wondrous babe-eyes give unspeakable answer to the yearning of father and mother heart. The heart of man leaps at the call of his God.
This makes quite clear the wondrous response men gave Jesus when He walked among us. Jesus was God coming a bit closer in His brooding love to mend a break and restore a blurred image. And men answered Him. They couldn't help it. How they came! They didn't understand Him, but they felt Him. They couldn't resist the tender, tremendous pull upon their hearts of His mere presence.
And Jesus drew man into the closest touch of intimate friendship. The long-range way of doing things never suited Him. And it doesn't. He didn't keep man at arm's length. And He doesn't. And then because they were friends, He and they, they were eager to serve, and willing even to suffer, to walk a red-marked roadway for Him they loved.
The Gospel According to—You.
Among all those who felt and answered the call of Jesus was one called John, John the disciple. Jesus drew John close. John came close. John lived close. John came early and he stayed late. He stayed to the very end, into the evening glow of life. And all his long life he was under the tender holy spell of Jesus' presence. He was swayed by the Jesus-passion. Always burning, he was yet never consumed; only the alloy burned up and burned out, himself refined to the quality of life called eternal.
Then John came to the end of his long life. And he knew he would be slipping the tether of life and going out and up and in to the real thing of life. And I think John was a bit troubled. Not because he was going to die. This never troubles the man who knows Jesus. The Jesus-touch overcomes the natural twinges of death. But he was troubled a bit in spirit for a little by the thought that he would not be on earth any longer to talk to people about Jesus. And to John this was the one thing worth while. This was the life-passion.
And so I think John prayed about it a bit. For this is what he did. He said to himself, "I will write a book. I'll make it a little book, so busy people can quickly read it. I'll pick out the simplest words I know so common folks everywhere that don't have dictionaries can easily understand. And I'll make them into the shortest simplest sentences I can so they can quickly get my story of Jesus." And so John wrote his little book. And we call it the story of Jesus according to John, or, as we commonly say the Gospel—the God-story—according to John.
And all this is a simple bit of a parable. It is a parable in action. Jesus is brooding over us, giving Himself, warmly wooing us. He woos us into personal friendship with Himself. And then He asks that each of us shall write a gospel. This is the Gospel according to John; and these others according to Luke and Mark and Matthew. He means that there shall be the gospel according to—you. What is your name? put it in there. Then you get the Master's plan. There is to be the gospel according to Charles and Robert and George, and Mary and Elizabeth and Margaret.
And you say, "Write a gospel? I couldn't do that. You don't mean that. That's just a bit of preaching." No, it isn't preaching. It's so. I do not mean to write with a common pen of steel or gold; nor on just common paper of rags or wood-pulp. But I do mean—He means—that you shall write with the pen of your daily life. And that you shall write on the paper of the lives of those you're touching and living with every day.
Clearly, He meant, and He means, that you and I shall live such simple unselfish lovable Jesus-touched lives, in just the daily commonplace round of life, that those we live with shall know the whole story of Jesus' love and life; His love burned out for us till there were no ashes, and His life poured out for us till not a red drop was left unspilled.
Are you writing your gospel? Is your life spelling out this simple wondrous God-story? I can find out, though, of course, I shall not. What I mean is this,—the crowd knows. The folks that touch you every day, they know. This old Bible was never printed so much as to-day, nor issued more numerously. And—thoughtfully—it was never read less by the common crowd on the common street of life than to-day.
That doesn't mean that the crowd doesn't read what it supposes to be religious literature. It does. I wish we church folk read our religious literature as faithfully as this crowd I speak of reads its. It is reading the gospel according to you, and reading it daily, and closely, and faithfully, and remembering what it reads, and being shaped by it.
This Bible I have here is bound in—I think it is called sealskin. I tried to get the best wearing binding I could. But I've discovered that there's a better binding than this. The best binding for the Gospel is shoe-leather. The old Gospel of the Son of God is at its best as it is being tramped out on the common street of life. Its truths stand out clearest as they're walked out. Its love comes warmest, its power is most resistless as it comes to you in the common give-and-take of daily touch in home and shop and street. Are you writing your copy of the Gospel?
You know that sometimes scholars have found some precious manuscripts in old monasteries. They have gone into some old, grey, stone monkery in the Near East, and they have run across old manuscripts hidden away in some dark cell, covered with dust and with rubbish, perhaps. With much tact and diplomacy they have at length managed to get possession of the coveted manuscript. And they have been fairly delighted to find that they have gotten hold of a remnant, a very precious remnant, of one of these Gospels. In just this way much invaluable light has been gotten that made possible these precious revised versions.
I wonder if your gospel—the one you're writing with your life—is just a remnant, a ragged remnant. And perhaps there's a good bit of dusting necessary, and removing of rubbish, to get even at what there is there. And some of the shy hungry hearts that touch you and me need to use quite a bit of unconscious diplomacy perhaps to get even as much as they do. I wonder. The crowd knows. It could throw a good bit of light here. How much of this old Jesus-story are you really living!
Of course, there's a special touch of inspiration in these four Gospels. The Holy Spirit brooded over these men in a special way as they wrote. That is true. These are the standard Gospels. We would never know the blessed story but for these four Spirit-breathed little books. But it is also true that that same Holy Spirit will guide you in the writing of your version of the Gospel.
These four Gospels are different from each other. The colouring of Luke's warm personality, and of his physician habit of thought is in his Gospel very plainly. And so it is with each one of these Gospels. And, even so, there will be the colouring of your personality, your habit of thought, the distinct tinge of the experience you have been through, in the gospel you write with the pen of your life, and bind up in the shoe-leather of your daily round.
But through all of this there will be the simple, subtle, but very real, atmosphere of the Holy Spirit, helping you make the story plain and full, and helping people to understand that story as it is lived, as they never can simply by hearing it told with tongues or read through eyes.
Are you writing your gospel? Is your daily life spelling out the life and love of Jesus, that life that was poured out till none was left, that love that was burned out till even the ashes were burned up, too? This is the Master's plan. And practically it is the crowd's only chance.
God in Human Garb.
Now I want to have you turn with me to the opening lines of John's Gospel. There are not many of these opening lines. The whole story is a short one. These lines at the beginning are like an etching, there are the fewest touches of pen on paper, of black ink on white surface. But the few lines are put in so simply and skilfully that they make an exquisite picture. It's the picture of God coming in human garb as a wooing Lover.
I think it might be best perhaps if I might simply give you a sort of free reading of these opening lines, with a word of comment or illustration to try to make the meaning simpler. It will be a putting of John's words into the simple every-day colloquial speech that we English-speaking people use. John used very simple language in his own telling of the story in his mother-tongue. And it may help if we try to do the same.
You will quickly see how very simple this free translation will be. Yet, let me say, that though homely and simple it will be strictly accurate to what John is thinking and saying in his own native speech. I mean of course, so far as I can find out just what he is thinking and saying.
Let us turn then to John's Gospel, at its beginning. And it will help very much if we keep our Bibles open as we talk and read together.
Listen: in the beginning there was a wondrous One. He was the mind of God thinking out to man. He was the heart of God throbbing love out to man's heart. He was the face of God looking into man's face. He was the voice of God, soft and low, clear and distinct, speaking into man's ears. He was the hand of God, strong and tender, reaching down to take man by the hand and lead him back to the old trysting-place under the tree of life, down by the river of water of life.
He was the person of God wearing a human coat and human shoes, hand-pegged, walking in freely amongst us that we might get our tangled up ideas about God and ourselves and about life untangled, straightened out. He was God Himself wrapped up in human form coming close that we might get acquainted with Him all over again.
This is part of the meaning of the little five-lettered word in his own tongue that John chooses and uses, at the first here, as a new name for Him who was commonly called Jesus. It was because of our ears that he used the new word. If he had said "Jesus" at once, they would have said "Oh! yes, we know about Him." And at once their ears would have gone shut to the thing that John is saying.
For they didn't know. And we don't. We know words. The thing, the real thing, we know so little. So John uses a new word at the first, and so floods in new light. And then we come to see whom he is talking about. It's a bit of the diplomacy of God so as to get in through dulled ears and truth-hardened minds down in to the heart.
Nature always seems eager to meet a defect. It seems to hurry eagerly forward to overcome defects and difficulties. The blind man has more acute hearing and a more delicate sense of feel. The deaf man's eyes grow quicker to watch faces and movements and so learn what his ears fail to tell him. The lame man leans more on other muscles, and they answer with greater strength to meet the defect of the weaker muscles.
The bat has shunned the light so long through so many bat-generations that it has become blind, but it has remarkable ears, and nature has grown for it an abnormal sense of touch, and a peculiar sensitiveness even where there is no contact, so that it avoids obstacles in flying with a skill that seems uncanny, incredulous.
I remember in Cincinnati one night, sitting on the platform of a public meeting by the side of a widely known Christian worker and speaker who was blind. As various men spoke he quietly made brief comments to me,—" He doesn't strike fire." And then, "He doesn't touch them." And then, "Ah! he's got them; that's it; now they're burning." And it was exactly so as he said. I sat fascinated as I watched the crowd and heard his comments. The sense of discerning what was going on in another way than by sight had been grown in him by the very necessity of his blindness. Defect in one sense was overcome by nature, by increase in another sense.
When Queen Victoria was in residence in Scotland at Balmoral it was her kindly custom to present the various clergymen who preached in the Castle chapel with a photograph marked with her autograph. When George Matheson, the famous blind preacher, came she showed the fine thoughtful tact for which she was famous. Clearly an autographed photograph would not mean much in itself to a blind man. So the Queen had a miniature bust-statue made and presented to him as her acknowledgment of his service. And so where his eyes failed to let him see, his sense of touch would carry to his mind and heart the fine features of the gracious sovereign he was so glad to serve.
Jesus was God coming in such a way that we could know Him by the feel. We had gone blind to His face. We couldn't read His signature plainly autographed by His own hand on the blue above and the brown below. But when Jesus came men knew God by the feel. They didn't understand Jesus. But the sore hungry crowds reached out groping trembling fingers, and they knew Him. They began to get acquainted with their gracious Sovereign.
All this gives the simple clue to this word "Word" which John uses as a new name for Jesus. Man had grown deaf to the music of God's voice, blind to the beauty of His face, slow-hearted to the pleading of His presence. His hand was touching us but we didn't feel it. So He came in a new way, in a very homely close-up way and walked down our street into our own doors that we might be caught by the beauty of His face, and thrilled by the music of His voice, and thralled by the spell of His presence.
God at His Best.
John goes on: and this wondrous One was with God. There were two of them. And the two were together. They were companions, they were friends, fellows together. And this One was God. Each was the same as the other. This is the same One who was in the later creative beginning with God. It was through this One that all things were made. And, of all things that have been made, not any thing was made without Him.
You remember that John's Gospel and Genesis begin in the same way,—"in the beginning." But John's "in the beginning," the first one, is not the same as the Genesis "in the beginning." John's is the beginning before there was any beginning. It is the beginning before they had begun making calendars on the earth, because there wasn't any earth yet to make calendars on. Then this second time the phrase is used John comes to the later creative beginning with which Genesis opens. This is what John is saying here.
"In Him was life." Out of Him came life. Out of Him comes life. There was no life, there is none, except what was in this One, and what came, and comes out from Him all the time. How patient God is! There walks a man down the street. He leaves God out of his life. He may remember Him so far as to use His name blasphemously to punctuate and emphasize what he is saying. Yonder walks a woman in the shadow of the street at night. And her whole life is spent walking in the dark shadow of the street of life. And her whole life is a blasphemy against her personality, and against the God who gave her that precious sacred personality.
Take these two as extreme illustrations. There is life there; life of the body, of the mind, life of the human spirit. Listen softly, all the life there is there, is coming out all the time from this One of whom John is talking. It is not given once as a thing to be taken and stored. It is being given. It is coming constantly with each breath, from this wondrous One. This is what John is saying here.
How patient God is! Only we don't know what patience is. We know the word, the label put on the outside. We don't know the thing, except sometimes in very smallest part. For patience is love at its best. Patience is God at His strongest and tenderest and best.
I think likely when we get up yonder, we'll stop one another on the golden streets. There'll be a hand put out, gripping the other hard. And we'll look into each other's eyes with our eyes big. And we'll say with breaking voices, "How patient God was with us down there on the earth, down there in London and New York."
In Him was life. Out of His hand and heart is coming to us all the time all we are and all we have. We may leave God practically out. So many of us do. But He never leaves us out. The creating, sustaining touch of His Hand is ever upon each of us, upon all the world.
Though He cannot do all for us He would except as we gladly come and let Him. What He is giving us is so much. It's our all. Yet it is the smaller part. There's the fuller part. This is the whole drive of John's story, this fuller part. Out of Him Jesus, into us will come the newer, the better, the abundant quality of life, if He may have His way.
And John adds,—"and the life was the light of men." He was what we have. He gives Himself; not things, but a person. With God everything is personal. We men go to the impersonal so much, or we try to. We do our best at it. We have a great genius for organization, especially in this western half of the earth.
As I came back from a four years' absence from my own country, I was instantly conscious of a change. Either my ears were changed or things about me were. I think likely both. But the wheels were going faster than ever. There were more wheels, and their whir seemed never out of ear-shot. Commercial wheels, and educational, philanthropic and religious, political and humanitarian, thicker and faster than ever, driving all day, and with almost no night there.
And the whole attempt is to make the machine do the thing with as little dependence as possible on the human element, even though the human element was never emphasized more. Contradictory? Yet there it is. We men go to the impersonal. Yet deep down in our hearts we hunger for the human touch, the warm personal touch. This after all is the thing. We all feel that. Yet the whole crowding of life's action is to crowd it out.
But with God everything is personal. The life is the light of men. What He is in Himself—that is what He gives. And this is all the light and life we ever have. Men make botany. God makes flowers breathing their freshening fragrance noiselessly up into your face. Man makes astronomy. God makes the stars, shaking their firelight out of the blue down into your wondering eyes on a clear moonless night. Man makes theology. And theology has its place, when it's kept in its place. God gives us Jesus.
I don't know much about botany. My knowledge of astronomy is very limited. And the more I read of theology, whether Western or Eastern, Latin Church or Greek, the first Seven Councils or the later ones, the more I stand perplexed. It's a thing fearsomely and wonderfully manufactured, this theology. But I frankly confess to a great fondness for flowers, and for stars, and a love for Jesus that deepens ever more in reverential awe and in tenderness and grateful devotion. The life was the light of men. He Himself is all that we have. We go to things. We reckon worth and wealth by things. He gives Himself. And He asks, not things, but one's self.
Packing Most in Least.
And John goes quietly on with his great simple story: "and the light shineth in the darkness," John has a way of packing much in little. Here he packs four thousand years into three English letters. For he has been back in that creative Genesis week. And now with one long stride he puts his foot down in the days when Jesus walks among us as a man. Forty centuries, by the common reckoning, packed into three letters e-t-h. Rather a skilful bit of packing that. Yet it is not unusual. It is characteristic both of John and of the One that guides John's pen. When He is allowed to have free sway the Holy Spirit packs much in little.
That rugged old Hebrew prophet of fire and storm, Elijah, standing in the grey dawn, in the mouth of an Arabian cave, had the whole of a new God—a God of tender gentle love—packed into an exquisite sound of gentle stillness, that smote so subtly on his ear, and completely melted and changed this man of rock and thunder. It's a new man that turns his face north again. The new God that had compacted Himself anew inside the ruggedly faithful old man is revealed in the prophet's successor. This is the new spirit, so unlike the old Elijah, that comes as a birth-right heritage upon young Elisha. Great packing work that.
That fine-grained young university fellow on the Damascus road, driving hard in pursuit of his earnest purpose, had the whole of a God, a new God to him, packed into a single flash of blinding light out of the upper blue. He had the whole of a new plan, an utterly changed plan for his life, packed into a single sentence spoken into his amazed ears as he lies in the dust.
And if this Holy Spirit may have His way—a big if? Yes: yet not too big to be gotten rid of at once: God puts in the if's, that we may get the strength of choosing. We put them out, if we do. If He may have His way He'll pack—listen quietly, with your heart—He'll pack the whole of a Jesus inside you and me. Much in little! Most in least! And the more we let Him in, the bigger that "most" prints itself to our eyes, and the more that "least" dwindles down to the disappearing point.
God gives us His own self in Jesus. Jesus comes to live inside of us. He doesn't give us things, but Himself. We talk about salvation. There's something better—a Saviour. We talk about help in trouble. There's something immensely more—a Friend, alongside, close up. We talk about healing—sometimes, not so much these days; the subject is so much confused. There's something much better—a Healer, living within, whose presence means healing and health for body and spirit.
Then John says, "the light shineth in the darkness." This is God's way of treating darkness. There are two ways of treating darkness, man's and God's. Man's way is to attack the darkness. Suppose this hall where we are were quite dark, all shuttered up, and suppose we were new on the earth, and not familiar with darkness. We want to hold a meeting. But how shall we get rid of this strange darkness that has come down over everything? Let's each of us get a bucket or pail or basin, and take some of the darkness out. So we'll get rid of it, and its inconvenience.
And if the suggestion were made seriously there might be talk of putting the suggestor in a certain sort of institution for the safety of the community. Yet this is the way we go at the other darkness, the worse moral darkness.
God's way is quite different; indeed just the exact reverse let the light shine. The darkness can't stand the light. If the hall were quite dark, and I scratched only a parlour-match, instantly as the little flame broke out of the end of the stick some of the darkness would go. It's surprising how much would go, and how quickly. The darkness can't stand the light. It flees like a hunted hare before a pack of hounds.
There may be times when action must betaken by a community against certain forms of evil, so damnable, and so strongly entrenched, and so threatening to the purity of home and young and of all. But note keenly that this is incidental. It is immensely important at times, but it is distinctly secondary. The great simple plan of God is this: let the light shine. The darkness flees like a whipped cur, tail tightly curled down and in, before the real thing of light.
Let me ask you a question. Come up a bit closer and listen quietly, for this is tremendously serious. And it's the quietest spoken word that reaches the inner cockles of the heart. Listen: is it a bit dark down where you live? Morally dark? Spiritually? How about that? in commercial circles and social and fraternal, in church and home and city and neighbourhood. Is it a bit dark? Or, have I found the Garden of Eden at last before the serpent entered?
Because if it be a bit dark, softly, please, let me say it very quietly, for it may sound critical, and I would not have that for anything. We are talking only to help. Though sometimes the truth itself does have a merciless edge. If it be a bit dark does it not suggest that the light has not been shining as it was meant to? For where the light shines the darkness goes.
For, you see, this is still God's plan for treating darkness. It is meant to be true to-day of each of us,—"the light shineth in the darkness." Of course, we are not the light. He is the Light. But we are the light-holders. I carry the Light of the world around inside of me. And so do you, if you do. It is not because of the "me," of course, but because of the great patience and faithfulness of Him who is the Light. A very rickety cheap lantern may carry a clear light, and the man in the ditch find good footing in the road again.
You and I are meant to be the human lanterns carrying the Light, and letting it shine clearly fully out. And you know when some one else is providing the light the chief thing about the lantern is that the glass of the lantern be kept dean and clear so the light within can get freely out. The great thing is that we shall live clean transparent lives so the Light within may shine clearly out. We may live unselfish clean Christly lives, by His great grace. And through that kind of lives, the Light itself shines out, and shines out most, and most clearly.
Over at the mouth of the Hudson, where I call it home, there are some strange things seen. Sometimes the glass of this human lantern gets smoky, badly smoked. And sometimes it even gets cobwebby, rather thickly covered up. And even this has been known to happen up there,—it'll seem very strange to you people doubtless—this; they write finely phrased essays on the delicate shading of grey in the smoke on the glass of the human lantern.
They meet together and listen to essays, in rarely polished English, on the exquisite lace-like tracery of the cobwebs on the glass of the human lantern. But look! Hold your heart still and look! There's the crowd in the road in the dark, struggling, jostling, stumbling, and falling into the ditch at the side of the road, ditched and badly mired, because the light hasn't gotten to them. The Light's there. It's burning itself out in passionate eagerness to help. But the human lanterns are in bad shape.
"Rhetoric!" do you say? I wish it were. I wish with my heart it were. Look at the crowds for yourself. There they go down the street, pell-mell, bewildered, blinded, some of them by will-o'-the-wisp lights, ditched and mired many of them. The thing is only too terribly true.
Our Lord's great plan, bearing the stamp of its divinity in its sheer human simplicity, is this: we who know Jesus are to live Him. We're to let the whole of a Jesus, crucified, risen, living, shine out of the whole of our lives.
Is it a bit dark down where you are? Let the Light shine. Let the clear sweet steady Jesus-light shine out through your true clean quiet Jesus-swayed and Jesus-controlled life. Then the darkness must go. It can't stand the Light. It can't withstand the purity and insistence of its clear steady shining. And the darkness will go: slowly, reluctantly, angrily, doggedly, making hideous growling noises sometimes, raising the dust sometimes, but it will go. It must go before the Light. The Light's resistless. This is our Lord's wondrous plan through His own, and His irresistible plan for the crowd, and His plan against the prince of darkness.
The Heart-road to the Head.
Then John goes on to say, "the darkness apprehended it not." The old common version says "comprehended"; the revisions, both English and American, say "apprehended." Both are rather large words, larger in English than John would use. John loved to use simple talk. Yet there's help even in these English words. Comprehend is a mental word. It means to take hold of with your mind; to understand. Apprehend is a physical word. It means to take hold of with your hand.
You can't comprehend Jesus. That is just the simple plain fact. You may have a fine mind. It may be well schooled and trained. You may have dug into all the books on the subject, English and German and the few French. You may have spent a lifetime at it. But at the end there is immensely more of Jesus that you don't understand than the part that you do understand. You've touched the smaller part only, just the edges. You cannot take Jesus in with your mind simply. The one is too big and the other too limited for that particular process.
But, listen with your heart, you can apprehend Him. You can take hold of Him. There isn't one of us here, however poorly equipped mentally and in training, and too busy with life's common duties to get much time for reading, not one of us, who may not reach out your hand, the hand of your heart, the hand of your life, the hand of your simple childlike trust—if you're great enough in simplicity to be childlike, to be natural, not one of us, but may reach out the hand and take in all there is of Jesus.
And the striking thing to mark is this, that we don't really begin to comprehend until we apprehend. Only as we take Him into heart and life can we really understand. It's as if the heat in the heart made by His presence there loosens up the grey juices of your brain, and it begins to work freely and clearly.
Of course, this is a commonplace in the educational world. It is well understood there that no student does his best work, no matter what that work may be, in science or philosophy or in mathematics or in laboratorial research, his mind cannot do its best, or be at its best, until his heart has been kindled by some noble passion. The key to the life is in the heart, that is the emotions and purposes tied together. The approach to the mind is through the heart. The fire of pure emotion and of noble purpose burning together, works out through the mind into the life. This is nature's order.
But what John is saying here, put into as simple language as he would use, is this: "the darkness wouldn't let the light in, and couldn't shut it out, and couldn't dull the brightness of its shining." It tried. It tried first at Bethlehem. The first spilling of blood came there. There was the shedding of blood at both ends of Jesus' career, and innocent blood each time. It tried at the Nazareth precipice, and in the spirit-racking wilderness. It tried by stones, then in Gethsemane, then at Calvary.
And there it seemed to have succeeded. At last the light was shut in and down; the door was shut and barred and bolted. And I suppose there was great glee in the headquarters of darkness. But the Third Morning came. And the bars of darkness were broken, as a woman breaks the sewing-cotton at the end of the seam. The Light could not be held down by darkness. It broke out more brightly than ever. The darkness couldn't shut the light out. And it can't.
Let the light shine. Let it shine out through the clear clean glass of an unselfish, Jesus-cleansed Jesus-fired life lived for Him in the commonplace round, and the shut-away corner. And the darkness will go. The darkness cannot shut out the light, nor keep it down, nor resist the gentle resistless power of its soft clear flooding. Let the Light shine down in that corner where you are. And the darkness, darkness that can be felt, and is felt so sorely deep down in your spirit, in its uncanny Egyptian blackness, that darkness will break, and more, clear, and go, go, go, till it's clear gone.
And so ends John's first great paragraph. It is so tremendous in its simplicity that, Greek-like, men stumble over its simple tremendousness. Away back in the beginning God revealed Himself in making a home for man, and in bringing the man, made in His own image, to his home. And then when the damp unwholesome darkness came stealing in swamping the home and man He came Himself, flooding in the soft clear pure light of His presence, to free man from the darkness and woo him out into the light.
Tarshish or Nineveh?
Then John goes on into his second paragraph. "There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John." Why? Because man was in the dark. He sent a man to help a man. He used a man to reach a man. He always does. Run clear through this old Book of God, and then clear through that other Book of God—the book of life, and note that this is God's habit. He, Himself, uses the path He had made for human feet. With greatest reverence let it be said that God must use a human pathway for His feet.
Even when He would redeem a world He came, He must needs come, as a Man, one of ourselves. He touches men through men. The pathway of His helping feet is always a common human pathway. And, will you mark keenly that the highest level any life ever reaches, or can reach, is this: to be a pathway for the feet of a wooing winning God.
And this is still true. It is meant to be true to-day that there came a man, sent from God, whose name is—your name. You put in your own name in that sentence, then you get God's plan for you. For as surely as this particular John of the desert and of the plain living, and the burning speech, was sent by God, so surely is every man of us a man sent by God on some particular errand. And the greatest achievement of life is to find and fit into the plan of God for one's life. This is the only great thing one can do. Anything else is merely labelled "great." And that label washes off. This is the one thing worth while.
The bother is we don't always get the verbs, the action words, of that sentence straight. John was a man sent from God. And he came. All men are sent But they don't all come, some go; go their own way. There was a man sent from God whose name was Jonah. But he didn't come. He went. He was sent to Nineveh on the extreme east. He went towards Tarshish on the extreme west; just the opposite direction. Every man is headed either for Nineveh or Tarshish, God's way or his own. Which way are you headed?
Some of us go to Tarshish religiously. We go our own way, and sing hymns and pray, to make it seem right and keep from hearing the inner voice. We hold meetings at the boat-wharf, while waiting for the Tarshish ship to lift anchor. We have services in the steerage and second-class and distribute tracts and New Testaments; but all the time we're headed for Tarshish; our way, not God's. It won't do simply to do good. We must do God's will. Find that and fit into it.
The meetings and tracts are only good but they ought to be on the train to Nineveh, and in Nineveh where God's sent you. Are you berthed on the boat for Tarshish? or have you a seat engaged on the train for Nineveh? going your own way? or God's? John was sent and he came. You and I are sent. Are we coming or going? coming God's way? or, going our own?
This true-hearted burning man of the deserts came for a witness. Here we strike one of John's great words. You remember the three things that witness means? that you know something; that you tell what you know; and that you tell it most with your life. And telling it with your life means, not only by the way you live, but, too, even though the telling of it may cost you your life. It came to mean all of that with this witness.
It came to mean that with a new fullness of meaning, a peculiar significance, to the great Witness, of whom John told. This was the very throbbing heart of the wooing errand. This explains the tenderness and tenacity of the Lover in His wooing in the midst of intensest opposition, and in spite of it.
The opposition brought about the terrific grouping of circumstances which the great Lover-witness used as the tremendous climax of both wooing and witnessing. No one doubts the reality of Jesus' witness to the Father's love before men. And no one, who has had any touch at all with Him, doubts the tremendous pull upon one's heart of such a wooing appeal as that Calvary climax of witnessing made, and makes.
And this, mark it keenly, is still the plan. "The-same-came-for-witness" is meant to be true of each follower of the Christ. This is to be the dominant underchording of all our lives. This is to be the never-absent motive gripping us, and our possessions and our plans. The rest is incidental in a true life.
It may be a "rest" that takes most of the waking hours with most of us, most of our strength and thought. But there's an undercurrent in every life. And the undercurrent is the controlling current. It makes us what we really are. It may be quite different from the upper current controlled by the outer necessities of circumstances. And with the true Jesus-man this is the undercurrent, this thing of witnessing.
Do you know something of Jesus? Do you know the cleansing of His blood? Do you know the music of His peace in your heart? Do you know a bit of the subtle fragrance of His presence? Do you know the power of His Name when temptations come, when the road gets slippery, and your feet go out from under you—almost. Then His Name, its power, and you hold steady. Do you know something about such things?
Then tell it. This is the plan—telling. It's a Gospel of telling. Tell it with your lips tactfully, gently, boldly, earnestly. But tell it far more, and most with your life. Let what you are, when you're not thinking about this sort of thing, let that tell it. That's the greatest telling, the best.
And, softly, now, when you get to the end of telling what you know, listen quietly, don't go to digging into books for something to tell your class or the meeting or the crowd. Don't do that. Books have their place, good books, but it's always a sharply secondary place, or third, or lower down yet. Poor crowd that must be fed on retailed books worked over! Don't do that. Know more. Know Jesus better. Trust Him more fully. Risk more on following where He clearly leads. Then you can tell more and better.
Sometimes I'm asked, "How can I have more faith?" Well, not by thinking about your faith. Not by books or definitions chiefly, however they may help some. I can tell you how: Follow where the Master's quiet voice is clearly calling. Go where it is plain to you that that pierced hand is leading.
"Ah! but the way is a bit narrow," you think. "And it's steep. There are sharp-edged stones under foot. And those bushes are growing rank on both sides narrowing the path. And thorns scratch and hurt and sting. This other road where I am now—this is a good Christian road. My Christian brothers are here. I'd rather stay here."
And so you stay. You don't say "no" to the calling voice. You simply act "no." No wonder you get confused and tangled. It's only in the path of following clear leading that there comes sweetest peace, with no nagging doubts and mental confusion. There only will you have more faith, know more of Him, touch with whom is the realest faith. And so only will the witness be told out to the crowd on the street of your life, of the power and satisfying peace of this Jesus.
This is the witnessing we're sent to do. And the crowds crowd to listen, when it's given. This is the way the Witness did. He followed the clear Father-voice, though the road led straight across the regular roads through thorn hedges and thick underbrush. Should not the servant tread it still?
The word that John uses here underneath our English word witness is the word from which our English word martyr comes. And martyr has come to mean one who gives his life clear out in a violent way for the truth he believes. But, do you know, that is easy. "Easy?" You say, "Surely not, you're certainly wrong there." No, you are right. It is not easy. To face a storm of lead, or feel the sharp-edged blade, or yield to the eating flame,—that is never easy.
But this is what I mean. There's the heroic in it, and that helps. You brace yourself for it. The terrible crisis comes. You pull together and pray and resolutely, desperately, face it. A little while, and it's over. You've been true in the sharp crisis. You have taken a place with the noble army of martyrs. And we who hear of it have a martyr's halo about your head.
But there's something immensely harder to do. Without making a whit less than it is the splendid courage of martyrdom, there's something that takes immensely more courage, and a deeper longer-seasoned heroism, and that is to be a living martyr, to bear the simple true witness tactfully but clearly, when it takes the very life of your life to do it, though it doesn't take your bodily life in a violent way.
You know they don't martyr people these days for their Christian faith. At least not in the western half of the earth, the Christian hemisphere. No, that's quite behind the calendar. That's rather crude, quite behind the cultured advanced Christian progress of our day. Our Christian civilization has gone long strides beyond that. We have grown much more refined. Now we kill them socially. Many a one who would live true to the Jesus-ideals in daily life in a simple sane way finds certain social doors shut and carefully barred.
We kill them commercially now. The man who will quietly hew to the Jesus-line in business is quite apt to find his income reduced. The bulk of business shrinks. The thermometer is run down below the living point. We kill men by frost now. The blockade system is skilfully used; isolation and insulation from certain circles. We are much more refined.
The great need to-day is of living witnesses to the Christ in home, and social circle, in the street, and in the market-place.
"So he died for his faith; that is fine, More than the most of us do. But stay, can yon add to that line That he lived for it, too?
"It's easy to die. Men have died For a wish or a whim— From bravado or passion or pride. Was it hard for him?
"But to live: every day to live out All the truth that he dreamt, While his friends met his conduct with doubt, And the world with contempt.
"Was it thus that he plodded ahead, Never turning aside? Then we'll talk of the life that he led" Even more than the death that he died.
The Forgotten Preacher.
With a simplicity in sticking to his main point, John goes quietly on: "that he might be a witness of the light." That's rather interesting. It was of the light he was to bear witness; not of himself. It was not the technical accuracy of his work, not its scholarliness and skill that absorbed him, but that the crowd got the light. Rather striking that, when you break away from the atmosphere round about, and think into it a bit.
Here's a man walking down a country road. It's a hot day. The road's dusty. He gets a bit weary and thirsty. He comes across a bit of a spring by the side of the road. Clear cool water it is. And some one has thoughtfully left a tin-cup on a ledge of rock near by. And the man gratefully drinks and goes on his way refreshed. He quite forgets the tin-cup.
Sometimes the tin-cup seems to require much attention, up in the corner of the world where my tent is pitched. It has to be handled very carefully and considerately if one is to get what possible drops of water it may contain. The human tin-cup seems to bulk very big in the drinking process, sometimes, in my corner of the planet. It is silver-plated sometimes; just common tin under the plating. There's some fine engraving on the silver-plating, noble sentiment, deftly expressed, and done in the engraver's best style. But the water is apt to be scanty, the drops rather few, in this sort of tin-cup. It's a bit droughty.
And sometimes even this has been known to occur: they have associations of these human tin-cups for self-admiration and other cultural purposes. And they have highly satisfactory meetings. But meanwhile, ah! look! hold still your heart, and look here. There's the crowd on the street, hot dusty street, exhausted, actually fainting for want of water, just good plain water of life. But there's none to be had; only tin-cups! John was eager to have men get a good drink. He was content as he watched them drink, and their eyes lighten. He was discontent and restless with anything else or less.
Do you remember the greatest compliment ever paid John, John the Herald? John was a great preacher. He had great drawing power. To-day we commonly go where people are hoping they'll stay while we talk to them. But John did otherwise. He went down to the Jordan bottoms, where the spirit ventilation was better, and called the people to him. And they came. They came from all over the nation, of every class. Literally thousands gathered to hear John. He had great drawing power.
And then something happened. Here is John to-day talking earnestly to great crowds down by the river-road. And here he is again to-morrow; but where are the crowds? John has lost his crowd. Same pulpit out in the open air, same preacher, same simple intense message burning in his heart, but—no congregation! The crowd's gone. Poor John! You must feel pretty bad. It's hard enough to fail, but how much harder after succeeding. Poor John, I'm so sorry for you.
But if you get close enough to John to see into his eye you quit talking like that. And if you get near enough to hear you find your sympathy is not needed. For John's eye is ablaze with a tender light, and the sound of an inner heart music reaches your ear as you get near him. And if you follow, as you instinctively do, the line of the light in his eye you quickly look down the road.
Oh! There's John's crowd. They're listening to Jesus.John's crowd has left him for his Master. And the forgotten preacher is the finest evidence of the faithfulness of the preacher. The crowd's getting the water, sweet cool refreshing water of life, direct from the fountain. They've clean forgotten the faithful common tin-cup. And John's so glad. John came that he might bear witness of the light. And he did. And the crowd heard. And they flocked to the light.