SERMONS ON BIBLICAL CHARACTERS
REV. CLOVIS G. CHAPPELL, D.D.
RICHARD R. SMITH, INC.
BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
SERMONS ON BIBLICAL CHARACTERS. II
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
I THE MISSING MAN—THOMAS II THE GREAT REFUSAL—JONAH III THE ROMANCE OF FAITH—PETER IV LOVE'S LONGING—PAUL V GOING VISITING—JONATHAN VI THE WOMAN OF THE SHATTERED ROMANCES—THE WOMAN OF SYCHAR VII A GOOD MAN—BARNABAS VIII THE INQUEST—PHARAOH IX A SON OF SHAME—JEPHTHAH X A CASE OF BLUES—ELIJAH XI THE SUPREME QUESTION—THE PHILIPPIAN JAILER XII THE MOTHER-IN-LAW—NAOMI XIII CONFESSIONS OF A FAILURE—THE BUSY MAN XIV A MOTHER'S REWARD—JOCHEBED XV A GOOD MAN'S HELL—MANASSEH XVI A SHREWD FOOL—THE RICH FARMER
SERMONS ON BIBLICAL CHARACTERS
THE MISSING MAN—THOMAS
"Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came." Did you notice the name of this man who was missing? Who was it when the little company met after the crucifixion that was not there? There was a man expected who failed to come. Who was this man? When the little company gathered in the upper room behind shut doors there was one chair that was vacant. Who should have occupied that chair?
Well, in the first place, it was not Judas. He was missing. He was not there, it is true, but he was not expected. Judas had already betrayed his Lord. Judas had already been whipped and scourged by his remorse of conscience clean out of the world. Judas had gone to his own place in the great Unseen Country. Judas was not there, but he was not expected to be there.
Who was the missing man? It was not Pilate. We no more expected Pilate than we expected Judas. Pilate had had his chance at Jesus. Pilate had had an opportunity of knowing, of befriending Him, of serving Him. But Pilate had allowed his own interests to get the better of his conscience. Pilate had chosen the friendship of Caesar and had spurned the friendship of the King Eternal. So we did not expect Pilate to be present in this little company of the friends of Jesus who met on the resurrection side of the cross. Who was the missing man? It was not Caiaphas. He, too, had stood in the presence of Jesus, but his envy had made him blind. And he shouted "Blasphemy!" so loud that he drowned the voice of his conscience and the gentle whisperings of the Spirit of God. No, it was not Caiaphas, nor any of the indifferent or hostile crowd that we miss in this meeting.
Then, who was this missing man? And we read the text again and we find his name was Thomas. That is a very familiar name. Oh, yes; we remember Thomas quite well. It was Thomas who was missing. Now, Thomas was expected, for he was a member of the little band of disciples. He was one of the Twelve. He belonged to the Inner Circle. His fellow Christians had a right therefore to expect him. Yet Thomas was not with them.
It is a sad day ever for any congregation when its own membership begin to absent themselves from its services. It is a sad day for any congregation when those who compose it can be counted on to be there at the social function, there at the place of business, but cannot be counted on when the interests of the Kingdom are at stake and when the Son of God goes forth to war. Believe me, no community ever loses respect for a congregation till that congregation loses respect for itself.
And did you notice when it was that Thomas was absent? "Thomas was not with them when Jesus came." What an unfortunate time to be away! What a great calamity to have missed that service of all others! There was the little despondent, despairing company of ten meeting behind closed doors. They were sorrow-burdened and fear-filled. But Jesus came, and Thomas, the saddest and bitterest man of them all, was not there.
Of course he would have gone if he had had any idea what a wonderful service it was going to be. If he had even dreamed that Jesus would be there, of course he would not have missed it; but he expected the meeting to be a very dull affair. He felt confident that whoever else was there that there would be no Christ. He expected that Peter and James and John and the rest would meet there and talk of a glorious past that had gone forever. He would have said, "Yes, I know what they will say. They will tell how Jesus called them at the beginning. They will tell how they forsook all to follow Him. They will tell of the great dreams that they dreamed, of the high hopes that they cherished. They will tell of all the glad, radiant days that have 'dropped into the sunset.' But they will have nothing to say to relieve the bitterness of to-day or to fling a bow of hope upon the black skies of to-morrow. So I will not go to the meeting to-day."
But the meeting was not dull. The meeting was not sad. The meeting was not a lament for a glory that was passed, for a glad day that had slipped behind them forever more. It was a service that thrilled with present joys. It was a meeting that made the future to glow with glorious possibilities. It was wonderful, because Jesus came. He came then, and He comes still. Wherever hungry hearts come together who yearn for Him and make Him welcome, there comes the blessed Christ to stand in the midst. And therefore I would not absent myself from the meeting together of the people of God. I would not because I want to be there when Jesus comes, when the King comes in to see the guests.
"Thomas was not with them when Jesus came." I wonder why it was that Thomas was missing. I wonder how it came about that he, the neediest man among the apostles, was not there to receive the inspiration and the uplift that came from this service. Why was he not there?
It was not, I am sure, because he was indifferent. There are many to-day who have separated themselves from the services of the church, from the fellowship of the saints, because of a deadening indifference. They have become absorbed in a thousand other matters till they have become doubly uninterested in the things of the church and in the affairs of the Kingdom.
Thomas was not missing because he had found satisfaction elsewhere. Thomas was not satisfied. Thomas was not happy. I doubt if there was a sadder man in all Jerusalem than Thomas. I doubt if there was a more wretched man in the wide world at that time than was Thomas. Thomas had not turned aside from Jesus to satisfy his soul on husks. He had not left Christ because his needs had been met and his thirst satisfied at some other fountain.
Why was Thomas missing? He was missing because he had lost hope. He believed that Christ was dead. He believed that the cause for which he had stood was lost and lost forever more. He believed that right was forever defeated; that wrong was forever enthroned. Over his head was a blackened sky. For him there was not one single ray of light nor one single gleam of hope.
If I had met Thomas on the streets of Jerusalem on that day and said, "Thomas, I saw your friends going together to the Upper Room. Aren't you going? Jesus might come while they are there," Thomas would have answered, "No, I'm not going. Jesus will not be there. He is dead. Don't you know if I thought I would see Him I would go? Don't you know that I loved Him and love Him still better than life, but Jesus is dead. Dead! Dead!
"I was in the garden when Judas kissed Him. I saw them lead Him away. I saw the soldiers scourge Him. I saw Him crowned with the crown of thorns. I was out on Calvary when the black night came on at midday and I heard that wild, bitter cry. Oh! I will hear it forever more: 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' I saw His head bowed and I saw the brute of a soldier thrust the spear into His side. Don't talk to me about seeing Jesus again. Jesus is dead."
The very bitterness of the sorrow of Thomas had driven him to despair. He found it hard to believe always. Here he found it impossible. Now, there are some folks who are sweetened by sorrow and made better. There are others that are made bitter and morose and despairful. I heard a man cry one day, an awful cry "Oh, I could curse God," he said, "if I knew there was a God, for letting little Mary die!" For Thomas everything had collapsed. There was not a star in his sky. There was not a horizon in his life in which he might hope for a dawn. So that he, the neediest man of them all, was not there when Jesus came.
And now, will you see what he missed. Truly, the man was right who did not wonder what people suffered, but wondered at what they missed. And just see what this man Thomas missed by not being in the little meeting among the ten. First, he missed the privilege of seeing Jesus. He missed the privilege of seeing Him who had throttled Death and hell and the grave and had brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. He missed seeing Him, one vision of whose face would have changed his sobbing into singing and his night into marvelous day.
He missed seeing Jesus, and failing to see Him, he missed the glorious certainty of the after life. It is Christ, my friends, that makes Heaven and the eternal life sure for us. It is He who enables men to go down into the great silence without a doubt and without a fear. It is He who makes us absolutely confident that there is a Home of the Soul, that—
"There is a land of pure delight Where saints immortal reign."
Having seen Him once dead and alive forever more, we have no slightest doubt of the truth of His promise that, because He lives we shall live also.
By staying away that day Thomas missed the thrill of a great joy. Had he been there he might have seen the Lord. This is not a possibility in every service, possibly, but it ought to be. It is a possibility in every successful service. I heard of a preacher once who thought that what his congregation wanted was beautiful epigrams. He thought that they were more hungry for bejeweled verbiage than for the Bread of Life. He thought they were thirsting more for a stream of eloquence than for the Water of Life. But he was mistaken. And once he came into the pulpit to find a card lying before him on which was written this word: "Sir, we would know Jesus."
At first it angered him a bit and then it made him think. And then it sent him to his knees. And then it sent him into the pulpit with a new message. And one day he came again into his pulpit to find a second card before him. Picking it up, he read these words: "Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." Of course they were. Their gladness was the gladness of the ten that met in the Upper Room. Their gladness was the gladness that might have been experienced by Thomas. It was intended for him, for he was the saddest and most wretched man in Jerusalem. But Thomas was not there.
Thomas missed also the gift of peace. Jesus said to those present, "Peace be unto you." And how Thomas needed that gift! Thomas was in a fever of restlessness and wretchedness. He was whipped by a veritable tempest of doubt and utter unbelief. And all the while he might have had the peace that passeth understanding. He might have had the vision of Him who stood then, and still stands, the central figure of the ages, saying, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Those present that day were blessed with the gift of peace. They had "fervor without fever." They had motion without friction. But Thomas missed it because "he was not with them when Jesus came."
The disciples who were there were re-commissioned that day. Jesus said to them, "As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you." With His death everything seemed at an end. The great program that He had given them seemed to have lapsed forever. A man said a few years ago, "Life doesn't seem worth living since I found that Christianity is not true." It was so with these men. They were men without a goal. But Jesus came and recommissioned them, laid upon them again the high task of conquering the world. And Thomas missed that great blessing because he was not there.
Last of all, Jesus breathed upon them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." These men were not only recommissioned. They received the Holy Ghost. "He breathed on them." How close they came to Him that day! How their hearts were warmed! How their hopes were revived! "He breathed on them and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost." And poor Thomas missed also this benediction because he was not with them when Jesus came.
It may be that you were once active in the church. It may be that you were once a live and enthusiastic Christian. But little by little you have slipped back. You have moved to strange places. Your life has been thrown in great cities. And you have missed the fellowships of yesterday out of your life. It may be that to-day you are no longer found regularly among the worshipers in God's House. You are missing something. Don't deceive yourself. As the saints of God meet together Jesus still manifests Himself. And seeing Him, there comes to us a new joy and peace, a new sense of the purpose and worthfulness of life. Seeing Him there comes to us a new power for battle and for conquest.
But if we have missed Him, whatever else we have won, we have missed about all that is worth while. Oh, there is one thing of which I am absolutely sure, and that is that if I have Jesus, if His presence is a gladsome reality to my heart, nothing else matters much. But if I miss Him everything goes wrong and everything is disappointing. Darius is in the palace and Daniel in the den of lions, but there is restlessness and wretchedness in the palace and peace and joy in the lions' den. It is the presence of God that makes the difference.
Thomas, because he missed receiving, also missed the privilege of giving. When the other disciples came from that meeting, how radiant were their faces! What a spring they had in their step! What joy bringers they were! What a marvelously thrilling story they had to tell! Freely had they received and freely did they give.
But Thomas. He had received nothing, therefore he had nothing to give. He was a disappointment to his Master. For a whole week he went doubting Him, mistrusting Him, when it was his privilege to have walked into His fellowship and been as sure of His reality and of His nearness as he was of his own existence.
In the second place, he missed the privilege of helping his fellow disciples. What an encouragement he might have been to them! How it would have strengthened the faith of those Christians who had not yet seen the vision of their risen Lord to have seen the light even upon the gloomy face of Thomas! But Thomas missed the privilege of giving. I cannot rob myself without robbing you. I cannot starve myself spiritually without helping to starve you. I cannot sin alone. If I do that which lowers my spiritual vitality, by that very act I help to lower yours also. "Thomas was not with them when Jesus came," and he missed a double blessing, the privilege of receiving and the privilege of giving.
But Thomas, in spite of his failure, succeeded in the end. Tradition tells us that he died a martyr for his love and devotion to his Lord. How was he saved? How was he brought to the joy and usefulness that are born of certainty? Thomas, you know, was a doubter. A very thoroughgoing doubter he was. How then, in spite of his doubts, did he find his way into the fulness of the Light?
First, Thomas was not proud of his doubts. He did not look upon them as blessings or as treasures. There is a type of doubter to-day who does. I have heard men speak of "my doubts" as if they were very priceless things. But no man is of necessity the richer for his doubts. I know that doubt may become a doorway to a larger faith. Still, I repeat, no man is of necessity the richer for them. For instance, no man is the richer because of his social doubts. The man who does not believe in his fellow man is poor indeed. The man who has doubts about the inmates of his home suffers something of the pangs of hell. And the man who doubts God can hardly consider himself the possessor of a prize to be coveted. Thomas doubted, but he was not proud of his doubts.
Thomas was not only not proud of his doubts, but was thoroughly wretched on account of them. And being thoroughly wretched because of them, he was willing to be set right. He wanted to believe. It seems to me that any man would. Thomas was eager to be made sure that the Christ he loved was really alive. He yearned for certainty.
Thomas was not only willing, but Thomas was reasonable. When he sought to be sure of Jesus he put himself in the best possible position to learn the truth. When he wanted to be made sure of Christ he did not seek knowledge at the hands of the enemies of Christ. He did not ask information of those who were confessed strangers to Christ. So often we do. We get in the grip of doubt and straightway we turn from the fellowship of those who know the Lord to the fellowship of those who confessedly do not know Him. We read those books that strengthen our doubts rather than those that strengthen our faith. But Thomas was wiser.
"Thomas, we have seen the Lord." That is what Peter and James and John and the rest said to Thomas after this wonderful service that Thomas missed. And what was the answer of this doubter? Did his face light up as he said, "I am glad to hear it"? Not a bit of it. He said, "Except I see in His hand the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails and thrust my hand into His side I will not believe." And what Thomas meant by this answer was simply this: "There is nothing that you can say or do that will make me believe at all. I simply cannot believe and cannot be made to believe that Jesus has risen."
Now I do not think that his fellow disciples argued With him. Really it would have done no good. They simply left him to his own thoughts. And I fancy that those thoughts ran something after this fashion: "What they say is not true. They are mistaken. Of course they are. They must be. And yet they certainly believe in the truth of what they say. God grant that they are right. There is nothing that I would not give to know."
Then what did this honest and earnest doubter do? Listen! "And after eight days again the disciples were within and Thomas with them." Yes, Thomas is a doubter. But he is an honest and hungry-hearted doubter. He is willing to give himself every opportunity to know the truth. He says, "I will turn my face toward the east. Then if there is a dawn I will see it." And what happened? The dawning came. The sun rose, "even the Son of righteousness with healing in His wings." "Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands, and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God."
Thomas became absolutely certain. It is my firm conviction that that same certainty is your privilege and mine. I believe that Jesus spoke the simple truth when He said, "If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know." However little you may believe at this present moment, if you will be loyal to what you do believe, if you will follow the light that you have, it will bring you into the brightness of the day.
You remember how Horace Bushnell, while a student at Yale, felt that he was in the way of a great revival that was sweeping through the University. He did not want to stand in the way of this revival and yet he was an unbeliever. He did not feel that he could come out on the side of Jesus Christ for he did not believe in Christ. "What then do you believe?" a voice within him seemed to ask. "I believe there is an absolute difference between right and wrong," was the answer. "Have you ever put yourself on the side of the right to follow it regardless of consequences?" was the next question. "I have not," was the answer, "but I will." So Horace Bushnell kneeled there in his room and dedicated himself to the service of the right. And what was the result? After he had been a preacher of the Gospel in Hartford, Connecticut, for forty-seven years he said, "Better than I know any man in Hartford I know Jesus Christ."
When I was a lad I was overtaken by darkness while some eight or ten miles from home. The night was intensely black, so much so that I lost my way absolutely. I found myself after some hours in a dense forest. I made up my mind to dismount from my horse and sleep on the ground, as I saw no chance of finding my way home.
But I had no sooner dismounted than the lightning began to flash and the thunder to roar and I was warned of an approaching storm. A little later the storm burst upon me. And I mounted and rode on through the dark, not knowing whither I went. At last, far past midnight, I saw a speck of light in the distance. That light did not look at all like a sunrise. It was as small as a needle point. And yet I followed it because it was all I could see on the black bosom of the darkness. A little later I found that that light was shining from a window in my own home. A little later still I found my anxious mother behind that light waiting for the home-coming of her boy.
Now, I did not have much light to begin with. It was pathetically meager. But as I followed it it led me home. Thomas had but little. Bushnell had but little. But they were willing to be true to the light that they had. And being true to it, they found the fullness of the light. For it was true then as it is true to-day, "if any man is willing to do His will, he shall know."
THE GREAT REFUSAL—JONAH
There is doubtless not another book in the literature of the world that has suffered more at the hands of men than the book of Jonah. It has been tortured by its enemies and wounded in the house of its friends. We have been so prone to give our attention to the non-essential in the book rather than the essential. We have had such keen eyes for the seemingly ridiculous and the bizarre. For this reason it has come to pass that you can hardly mention the name of Jonah to a modern audience without provoking a smile. Thus Jonah, coming to us as an evangelist, is mistaken by many for a clown.
Now this is a calamity. It is a calamity in the first place because the book of Jonah is one of the gems of literature. There is not another book in the Old Testament that is more fragrant with the breath of inspiration. There is not another book more radiant with the light of the divine love. It is a wonderful gospel in itself. Therefore it is a great pity that we have turned from its winsome wealth to give ourselves to the unedifying task of measuring the size of a fish's throat.
Did you ever hear of the hungry men that were invited to a feast? When they came within the banquet hall they found the table spread with the viands of a king. But the table was a bit out of the ordinary. Therefore, there arose a discussion over the material out of which it was made. These guests began heated arguments also over the method of its carpentry. And they argued so long and learnedly and well that the food went utterly to waste and they went away more hungry than when they had come.
There is a story of a prince who loved a beautiful peasant girl. In spite of his royal blood he determined to marry her. To seal his pledge of marriage he sent her a wonderful engagement ring. It was a gem so marvelous that it was said the stars shut their eyes in its presence and even the sun acknowledged it as a rival. But the girl was more interested in the beautiful box in which it was packed than she was in the ring. And when the prince came he was humiliated and disappointed to find her wearing the box tied upon her finger while the jewel had been neglected and forgotten and utterly lost.
Now there is real jewelry here. Let us forget the rather queer casket in which this jewel comes while we examine the treasure. "The word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Ammittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for its wickedness has come up before me." "The word of the Lord came unto Jonah." There is nothing crude about that statement. There is nothing in that to excite our ridicule. That is one of the blessed and thrilling truths of the ages. To this man Jonah, living some time, somewhere, God spoke. To this man God made known His will and holy purpose.
And God is speaking still. The word of God is coming to men and women to-day. There is not a single soul listening to me at this moment but what at some time in your life there has come a definite and sure word from God. You have felt the impress of His Spirit upon your own spirit. You have felt the touch of His hand on yours. You have seen His finger pointing to the road in which you ought to walk and to the task that He was calling upon you to perform.
How this word came to Jonah we do not know, nor do we need to know. It may have come to him through the consciousness of another's need. It may have come to him through a study of the Word. It may have come to him through the call of a friend. How it came is not the essential thing. The one thing essential and fundamental is this, that the word did come. That is the essential thing in your case and in mine. God does speak to us. God does move upon us. God does call us, command us. God does stir us up. "The word of the Lord came unto Jonah," and it comes this very moment to you and to me.
What was it that the Lord said to Jonah? He gave him a strange and unwelcome command. He said, "Arise and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it, for its wickedness has come up before me." It was hard for Jonah to believe that he had heard aright. Was it possible that Nineveh was a great city in spite of the fact that it was a heathen city? Was it possible that Nineveh grieved God because of its wickedness? Could it be possible that God really loved Nineveh, though it was outside the covenant? Jonah did not want to believe this, but he had to believe it. He had to realize that
"The love of God is wider than the measure of man's mind And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind."
Jonah did not want to undertake this mission. His objection, however, did not grow out of the fear that Nineveh would refuse to repent. His reluctance was not born of the conviction that there was nothing in the people of Nineveh to which his message would appeal. I know we are often hampered by that conviction. We feel that it is absolutely useless to preach to some folks. There is no use in trying to christianize Africa. There is no use even in trying to christianize some of our next door neighbors. We so often forget that there is in every man an insatiable hunger and an unquenchable thirst that none but God can satisfy.
But to Jonah this call was unwelcome because he feared that Nineveh might repent. And that he did not want Nineveh to do. Jonah believed that God was the God of Israel only. He believed that God blessed Israel in two ways. First, He blessed her by giving her gifts spiritual and temporal. And He blessed her, in the second place, by sending calamities upon her enemies. An abundant harvest in Israel was a blessing from the Lord. A famine in Nineveh was also a blessing from the Lord. Jonah was firmly convinced that the prosperity of a nation other than his own meant calamity to Israel.
It is a pity that this selfish belief did not perish with Jonah. But when we face the facts we know that it did not. It is a very human trait in us to feel that another's advancement is in some way a blow to ourselves. It is equally a human trait to feel that another's downfall and disgrace in some way adds a bit of luster to our own crowns. Of course, nothing could be more utterly false, but in spite of this fact we cling to that faith through all the passing centuries.
On the whole this duty, then, that God had put upon Jonah was so distasteful that he made up his mind that whatever it might cost him he would not obey. Therefore, we read that he "rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." Ordered to Nineveh he sets out for Tarshish. There were two cities on his map and only two. There was Nineveh, the city to which he might go in the fellowship of God and within the circle of the will of God. There was also Tarshish, the city that lay at the end of the rebel's road, the city whose streets, if ever he walked them at all, he would walk without the fellowship of the God whom he had disobeyed.
And there are just two cities on your map. The Nineveh of obedience and the Tarshish of disobedience. You are going to Nineveh or to Tarshish. I do not claim to know where your Nineveh is. It may be a distant city. It may be a city across the seas whose streets you will crimson with the blood of your sacrifice. It may be a city as near to you as the home in which you live, as the child that nestles in your arms. But wherever it is, if you walk its streets you will walk them in the joy of the divine fellowship.
On the other hand, you may go to Tarshish. Tarshish is the city of "Have-Your-Own-Way." It is the city of "Do-As-You-Please." It is the city of "Take-it-Easy." It is the city with no garden called Gethsemane without its gates and no rugged hill called Calvary overlooks its walls. It is a city without a cross and yet it is a city where people seldom sing and often sob. It is a city where nobody looks joyously into God's face and calls Him Father.
I met Jonah that day on the wharf. He looked like he had passed through a terrible spell of sickness. His cheeks were hollow. His eyes were red with sleeplessness. He had a haggard, worn, hounded look about him. "Are you on the way home, Jonah?" And he shook his head and said, "No. I am going to Tarshish." Tarshish was the most far away place of which the Jew had any conception. "Tarshish!" I say in astonishment. "What are you going to do over at Tarshish?" "Oh," he said, "I hadn't thought about that. I do not know what the future has in store for me. What I am trying to do is to get away from God." "And Jonah arose to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord."
I wonder why the text did not say "And Jonah arose to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of his duty" instead of "from the presence of the Lord." The writer of this story had real spiritual insight. He was far clearer in his thinking than many of us. He knew that to flee from duty was to flee from God. Whenever you make up your mind to refuse to go where God wants you to go and to do what God wants you to do, you must make up your mind at the same time to renounce the friendship of God. You cannot walk with Him and at the same time be in rebellion against Him. God has no possible way of entering into fellowship with the soul that is disobedient to His will. Believe me, it is absolutely useless, it is mere mockery, to say "Lord, Lord" and then refuse to do the things that He commands you to do.
Now, when Jonah saw the spaces of water growing wider between him and the shore a kind of deadly calm came upon him. A man with his mind made up to do wrong is far more at rest than the man whose mind is not made up at all. So when Jonah had fully decided that he would rebel against God and give up all claim to God, a dreadful restfulness came to his troubled spirit. He went down into the sides of the ship and went fast asleep. The days before had been troubled days. The nights had been restless nights. But the battle was over now, even though it had been lost, and he was able at last to sleep.
This period marks, I am sure, the period of greatest danger in the life of Jonah. Jonah had been a rebel before, but he had been a restless rebel. He had been disobedient before, but his disobedience had tortured him. It had put strands of gray into his hair and wrinkles upon his brow. But now he is not only in rebellion, but he is content to be so. He is not only without God, but he is, in a measure, satisfied to be without Him. No greater danger can come to any man than that. As long as your sin breaks your heart, as long as your disobedience makes you lie awake nights and wet your pillow in tears there is hope for you. But when you become contented with your wickedness, when you come to believe that it is the best possible for you, then you are in danger indeed.
Now, I am fully convinced that Jonah's danger is the danger of a great many, both in the Church and out. You who are listening to me at this moment are kindly and cultured men and women. You are full of good will toward the Church. You love it and desire its prosperity. Yet many of you are doing practically nothing to make its desired prosperity a reality. One of the most discouraging features about the Church to-day is the large number of utterly useless people within its fold. And these are not only useless, but saddest of all, they are content with their uselessness. They seem to feel that it is God's best for them; that it is all that God expects or has a right to expect.
Did you ever make out your religious program and look at it? What does discipleship cost you? What is involved in your allegiance to the Lord? Coming to church once or twice a month on Sunday mornings and making a small contribution. Only this and nothing more. The Sunday School is not your burden. The prayer meeting is not your burden. Visiting the new members that have recently come into our Church and into the Kingdom and need your help is not your responsibility. Helping by your presence and by your prayers to give spiritual fervor to all the services, is not your responsibility. Yours is to make your way up to the doors of the House of Many Mansions by and by without ever having made one single costly sacrifice in order to follow the Lord.
Are you running away from your duty this morning? You know what it is. At least you may know it. This is a needy world. This is a needy Church. It has an opportunity to touch the uttermost parts of the earth if it is spiritually alive and spiritually mighty. Are you making your contribution? Are you accepting your responsibility or have you turned your back upon it for no other reason than just this, that it is too much trouble? If that is true of me and if that is true of you, may the Lord wake us up this morning and give us to see our deadly danger.
So Jonah turned his back on his duty and turned his back on God. He took ship for Tarshish and went to sleep. Surely his situation is critical indeed. But though he has forgotten God, God in His mercy has not forgotten him. God still loves Jonah, still longs for him and still hopes for him. And so in mercy He sends a storm after him. That was dangerous cargo that that ship had on board. It had better have had gasoline or T N T than a rebellious prophet.
It was in mercy, I say, that the Lord sent the storm after Jonah. Coverdale translates it, "The Lord hurled a storm into the sea." Let us thank God for the storms that rouse us, that wake us up, that keep us from sleeping our way into the pit. May the Lord send us any kind of storm rather than allow us to fling ourselves eternally away from His presence. I am so glad God will never allow a man to go comfortably and peacefully to eternal death. He never allows any man to be lost until He has done His best to save him.
I read some years ago of a New England farmer who was driving to town on a cold winter's day. He overtook a woman on the way who was walking and carrying a baby in her arms. He took her up on the seat beside him. The cold became more bitter. He noticed after a while that the woman replied to his questions drowsily. A little later he saw that she was asleep. Ho knew that unless awakened she would sleep the sleep of death. So he did what at first seemed a cruel thing. He sprang from the wagon, dragged her out into the snow and took the child from her clinging arms. With the child he sprang into the wagon and started his team down the road at a trot. The woman roused herself and began to totter feebly forward. A little later she quickened her pace. At last she broke into a run. And as she caught up with the wagon a little later and the farmer put the baby back into her arms, life had come back to the mother. A temporal loss was a blessing to this woman. Let us thank God for any losses that may come to us that will keep us from sleeping our way to ruin.
So Jonah was down in the sides of the boat asleep. Meanwhile the tempest was raging. Meanwhile the fear-filled crew was rubbing elbows with death. Then a hand is clapped on Jonah's shoulder and he is being given a vigorous shaking and a voice is calling to him. And though it is a heathen voice it is full of rebuke. "What meanest thou, O sleeper? How is it that you can sleep amidst all the agony, amidst all the danger that is about us? When the situation is as it is, how is it that you are not on your knees? Else and call upon thy God."
I wish through this message that I might take some of you who are sleeping so soundly and peacefully and shake you awake. I wish that God might speak through my voice to my heart and yours and say to us, "What meanest thou, O sleeper? What do you mean by sitting idly and stupidly in the House of God Sunday after Sunday and never doing anything? What do you mean by having children growing up about you and not being enough interested in their spiritual welfare to even have a family altar? How is it that amidst the tremendous issues of moral life and moral death that you can be as complacent and as undisturbed as the dead? Why in the name of all that is reasonable will you continue to 'lie like huge stones across the mouth of the sepulcher where God is trying to raise some Lazarus from the dead?'"
That shake and that message got Jonah awake. He sprang out of his berth and rushed upon the deck. And the sight that met him there made a new man out of him. It changed him from a provincial Jew into a world citizen and a missionary. What did he realize as he looked into the pallid faces of those death threatened men about him? He forgot all about their being heathen. He only remembered that they were one with himself in their common danger and their common need. They were all threatened with death. They all needed somebody to save. And, men and women, that is true still. We folks differ in many respects, but we are all alike in this: We have all sinned and we all need a Savior.
He not only saw that they were one in their needs but that they were also one in their hopes. He realized what we have been so long in realizing, and that is the oneness of the race. He came to know, even in that distant day, that since we are one body, one member could not suffer without all members suffering with it. He faced the fact that his own wicked rebellion against God had not only brought wretchedness upon himself, but that it was bringing it upon all that sailed with him. No man ever flees from duty without incalculable hurt, not only to himself, but to others as well.
But, thank God, the reverse is also true. If my disobedience hurts my obedience helps. If my sin carries a curse my righteousness brings a blessing. Here is another vessel lashed by a tempest. But the preacher on board this time is on good terms with his God. Therefore he puts one hand into the hand of his Lord and with the other he saves the whole company of two hundred and seventy-six souls that sail with him. "Be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee."
"How may the sea become calm for us," is the question. Jonah does not offer an easy suggestion. "Cast me overboard," is the reply. The man who a few days ago despised the heathen is now ready to die for them. That shows that God had made him a new man. I know he backslides a bit later, but he comes out all right in the end.
And, my brethren, God has no other method for stilling seas than that employed by Jonah. When the tempest of this world's sin was to be stilled there was no cheaper way than for Christ to allow himself to be thrown overboard. When Livingstone wanted to still the tempest of Africa he did not undertake the task from long distance. He allowed himself to be thrown overboard. And that is the price you and I have to pay for real service. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
So Jonah was cast into the sea. But by losing his life he found it. A friend of mine told recently of an experience of his in dealing with a British soldier in India. This soldier was seeking salvation. They prayed together. But as they were about to separate, the soldier was not satisfied. He staggered against the wall and prayed after this fashion: "Lord, my sins are many. I am unworthy of thy salvation. I am unworthy of a vision of thy face. But if there is any place that you want some man to die for you I would count it as a great favor if you would let me be that man." "And then suddenly," said my friend, "the light came into his face and he was conscious of the presence of Christ."
If you will do this to-day, stop running from God and turn and walk with Him, you will find that Nineveh is not a city of restlessness and wretchedness. But you will find that it is a city rich in fellowship with God and in the blessed experience of that peace that passeth all understanding. Which way are you going to travel from this hour? Out of that door you will go in a moment facing toward Nineveh or toward Tarshish. Which way will you face? May God grant that every step you take from this hour may be toward Nineveh.
THE ROMANCE OF FAITH—PETER
"Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water." I could not tell you how many times I have read this fascinating story. I have turned to it again and again. But in spite of its familiarity it always grips me. I can never read it thoughtfully without a thrill. I can never expose my soul to the vital truth of it without being helped and made a little bit more hopeful and I trust a little bit better.
Look at the picture. Here is a little ship in the midst of a storm at sea. A dozen men are manning the oars, battling with the tempest, fighting through the long hours of the night with the storm-whipped sea, fisticuffing with death, and yet getting nowhere. It has been long hours since they left the shore. It is now three o'clock in the morning, but they have made very little progress.
I have a fancy that they have become very tired and very discouraged. And more than once has one said to the other, "I wish the Master were here. If He were here He would know what to do." And then, to add to their terror, they suddenly see their master walking from wave to wave toward them across the sea. But he is not recognized. They take him for a ghost and they cry out in fear.
This is not an altogether unique experience. Many times Jesus comes to us in a way that makes us rather dread than welcome His approach. Sometimes He comes with demands for the giving up of certain sins or certain pleasures that we do not wish to give up. Sometimes He asks us for services that we do not wish to render. He demands surrenders that we do not at all desire to make. Sometimes He comes to us in the guise of a great disappointment. He comes in the garb of a heartache that wets our faces with tears.
The disciples, I say, were at first afraid. But Jesus calmed their fears by saying, "It is I. Be not afraid." The Bible seems to have been written in large measure just to still the fears of our timid hearts. Over and over again is that message directed to us, "Fear not." And at once fear was driven from these hearts. And in the place of fear came, to one at least, a glorious and buoyant faith.
"Lord, if it be thou," shouted Peter, "bid me come to thee on the water." You see the effect the presence of Christ had upon Peter. As soon as he recognized Jesus he ceased to fear and began to hope. As soon as he realized the presence of Christ he gave up doubt and despair and began to believe. The presence of Christ always makes for faith. Peter was gripped by a firm conviction that now that Christ had come impossibilities were transmuted into possibilities.
"Bid me come to thee on the water." Peter had no disposition to climb out of that boat before Jesus came. He had no desire to undertake this seemingly mad task while Christ was yonder on the mountain side and the little boat was being battered by the storm. But Christ had begotten within him a beautiful and seemingly utterly reckless faith. That which a moment ago was an impossibility is now altogether capable of being accomplished.
Christ always inspires such faith in the hearts of those who really know Him. In such faith He takes the keenest delight. There is nothing that so pleases Him as the most daring and reckless and romantic faith. He is never so joyed as when men trust Him with mad abandon. Never once did He praise a prudent and conservative faith. All His encomiums are for those who trust Him with a romantic recklessness.
Did you happen to meet the woman with the issue of blood as she set out to see Jesus? Well, it is good that you did not or you would have done your best to have discouraged her. Of course you would and so would I. "Sarah," I would have said, "are you going to ask Jesus to help you? Are you going to seek him out and fall on your face before Him in prayer?" "No," she would have answered, "I am not going to pray. I am not going to ask the Master to do anything for me at all. I am simply going to slip up behind Him when the crowd is thronging Him, and touch His garment. I have a shamefaced disease. I want as little attention as possible. Hence I am not going to say a single word to Jesus."
Then, I would have answered with conviction, "You will never be cured. The Master has made no promise that He will honor a mad faith like yours. When did He say He would heal if you merely slipped up in a mob and touched the fringe of His garment?" But I was not there to throw dashes of cold water upon the fire. She went on her reckless way. And wonder of wonders, she was healed.
"Lord, bid me come," said Peter. And what was the reply of Jesus? Did He say, "Peter, I am astonished at you. Why do you want to do this foolish and insane and impossible thing? Don't you know that the storm is against you? Don't you know that the law of gravitation is against you? Don't you know that the whole experience of the race is against you? You have been about the sea all your life. When did you ever see anybody walk on the waves? Why do you request, then, to do this absurd and ridiculous and impossible thing?"
But Jesus did not say that. I never read where He told a single trusting heart that his request was impossible. I do read where He said the very opposite. He said, "All things are possible to him that believeth." He makes all things possible. That is what he is for. He ever attacks men at the point of their impossibilities. He calls on the selfish man to love his neighbor as himself. He calls on the paralytics to rise and walk. And never does He have a rebuke for the man who dares to fling himself blindly upon His power.
And instead of rebuking Peter He approved him. He encouraged him. He set His sanction upon his request. He said to him, "Come." I am sure if you or I had been there we would have wanted Him to have said far more. We would have wanted Him to explain to us how He would hold us and enable us to walk. But the invitation, "Come," that one word was enough for Peter.
"Come," said Jesus. What would you have done under those circumstances? What would I? I suppose I know. I would have said, "Lord, I'd like to. I wish I could. I've always wanted to do something magnificent. It has occurred to me again and again as I have read the record of thy dealings with thy saints that the Christian life is not to be a dull and drab and unromantic thing. I have felt a thousand times that the faith of the saints ought to have far more of buoyancy and enthusiasm and daring and romantic adventure in it than it has. So since you have bid me come, Lord, I'd like to come. I'll think it over. Who knows but that I may try it some day?"
But Peter was made out of more heroic stuff. The spirit of adventure had not died within him. His faith is full of the finest romance. "Come," said Jesus and immediately I see Peter drop his oar and begin to climb down out of the boat to go to Jesus.
Some of the commentators are very hard on Peter for his boldness and seeming foolhardiness here. But I am frank to say that I like Peter here very much. I suppose most of the critics would have sat very still in the boat. I shouldn't wonder if they would not have put a restraining hand upon Peter. In fact, it would not surprise me if some of his fellow disciples did not do that very thing. I can imagine that Andrew might have gripped him and said, "Peter, sit where you are. You can hardly stay on top of the water now." And Thomas would have said, "Man, are you mad? Nobody ever walked on the water before." But Peter said, "By the help of Christ I will." And with the "storm light in his face" and the spray in his hair and with faith in Christ in his heart he pushes the boat from under his feet.
There is something great about that. There may be much base alloy in Peter, but there is something fine in him also. He is to be admired if he never takes a step. He is worthy of praise if he sinks into the sea as a piece of lead. At least he has dreamed of doing the supernatural. At least he has dared in the presence of Christ to undertake what others were afraid to undertake. He has ventured to stake his life on the power of Christ to make good His promise. If he fails utterly he is still worthy of respect. It is better to make a thousand failures than to be too cowardly to ever undertake anything.
So he steps out upon a stormy sea. It does look a bit mad, doesn't it? And yet it only looks mad because of our blindness and dullness and stupid unbelief. What did Peter have under him when he was in the ship? Upon what were his fellow disciples trusting to keep them from the bottom of the sea? Just two or three planks, that is all. Upon what was Peter trusting? He was trusting upon the sure word of God. When he let himself down from the side of the boat at Christ's invitation he did not drop into the sea. He dropped into God's arms. He dropped into the arms of Him who holds every sea in the hollow of His hand. He dropped into the arms of Him whose power kindled every sun and flung every world into space. Before Peter can sink he must break God's arm. And mad as seemed his act Peter was never so safe in his life. Pile upon him, if you will, all the mountain systems of all the worlds and he will never sink low enough to wet his sandals if he keeps his feet planted upon the promise of Christ.
Jesus said, "Come." Peter did the same that you and I may do. He responded in the affirmative. He said, "Yes, Lord," and made the venture. And what happened? Let me read it to you. "He walked on the water to go to Jesus." He did what was humanly impossible. He accomplished what was absolutely beyond the reach of any human being except for the power of Christ. He walked. It must have been a thrilling experience. It was a joy to himself. It was a joy to his Master. It was a benediction to his fellows. I can see the terror in their faces give way to wonderment and gladness as they say, "Well, well, well! He is doing it after all."
Yes, Peter walked. Let us not let any subsequent failure blind us to this blessed fact. I know that he did not walk far. I know, too, that that was his own fault. It was not the fault of his Lord. Peter might have walked the whole distance but for one fatal mistake. He might have won a complete triumph but for one tragic loss.
What happened to Peter? "He saw the wind boisterous." What does this mean? It means that Peter ceased giving his attention and his confidence to Christ. He fixed upon the difficulties. In other words, he lost his faith. He came to believe in his hindrances more than in his help. He believed in Christ a great deal, but he believed more in waves and wind and lightning and thunder. He believed in Jesus, but he believed more in weakness and death. Looking at the wind he stepped right off God's promise and it wasn't a second till he was up to his neck in the raging water.
There was absolutely no failure possible so long as he stood firm upon the promise of Christ. "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden," Jesus is saying to you that are troubled and sin burdened. That means that you can come. That means that He is eager for you to come. And however far you have gone from God and however stiff may be the tempest that blows about you, if you get this promise under your feet all the storms that hell can let loose against a human soul will leave you unshaken. But you must keep a firm stand on the promise.
If you are here with some great yearning in your heart, some special prayer for usefulness or for deliverance from a peculiar temptation, lay hold on God's Word and cling to it and you will never be put to confusion. A saintly old friend of mine told me on one occasion about praying for his child. And he said he got the assurance that his baby was going to recover. She was suffering from membranous croup. That very night he was awakened by the mother and the nurse. And he heard the mother say to the nurse, "Is she dead?" And he turned and went to sleep with never a question and never a doubt. He refused to look at the waves.
Peter got too interested and too absorbed in difficulties. It is so easy to do that. Peter took counsel of his fears. I have done the same and you have done the same a thousand times over. We are not going to be harsh and critical with him. By so doing we would be too hard upon ourselves. But this I say: It is a great calamity. It is a great shame. Oh, that we might get upon the higher ground of the psalmist who said, "Wherefore will we not fear though the earth be removed and though the mountains be cast into the midst of the sea."
But looking at the boisterous wind and taking counsel of our fears,—these are not the only things that work our ruin. We might be persuaded, and often are, to take our eyes off Christ as much by our advantages as by our disadvantages. Had Peter said within himself, "The law of gravitation is not so invariable as I thought," or "I am a much superior man to what I dreamed I was." If Peter had fixed his confidence in self or in circumstances he would have gone down just the same. Anything that turns our eyes away from a steadfast gaze of faith upon Christ spells disaster.
What happened to Peter when he began to look at the boisterous wind? You know. He began to sink. Peter sinking right in the presence of Christ,—that is pathetic. He can help nobody now. He could not have saved his own child if he had been there. Unbelievers seated smugly in the boat said, "Ah! I thought so. I knew something like that would happen." I do not know that Peter would ever have noticed the boisterous wind unless somebody had called his attention to it. I can imagine Thomas might have shouted to Peter and said, "Look out, Peter. There comes a tremendous wave." Anyway, Peter is sinking.
Did you ever have that experience? Do you know what it is to feel that soul sickening sensation that comes to one who is sinking? Do you know what it means to be losing your grip on God, losing your power in prayer, losing your grip of things spiritual? Did you ever sink? Are you sinking to-day? I think I know something of the experience of Peter. I have an idea that you know something of it.
Young man, away from home for the first time, are you sinking? Little by little are you giving up your faith? Little by little are you flinging away the fine ideals that were the strength of your earlier years? Young woman, are you sinking? Business man, cumbered with many cares, living your life in the thick of the fight, are you keeping straight and clean or are you losing your vision? Are you sinking? What was the matter with Lot in Sodom? He led a sinking life. That was it and it cost him every one that was dear to him. It will prove expensive to you. Oh, Christian worker, you will not count as long as you are living a defeated and failing and sinking life.
But even in his failure Peter has a message for us. In his defeat he is his own straightforward, sincere and honest self. When Peter realized that he was sinking he did not try to conceal the matter. He did not say, "I'll fight it out in my own strength." He threw himself at once on the infinite strength of Christ. He prayed. That was a wise thing. That was a big and manly thing. Peter prayed. Have you forgotten the art?
And listen to that prayer. It was white hot with earnestness. "Lord, save me." It is short, too. Notice that. When you do not want anything, when you have no burden, when you are careless and indifferent and listless, you can get down on your knees and pour out whole hogsheads of mere words. When you are spiritually asleep and morally stupid you can utter platitudes in the form of prayer endlessly. But when the sword of genuine conviction has passed through your soul, when you are doing business in great waters, then you fling aside your platitudinous petitions and call out in solemn earnestness for help.
That prayer was a confession. It was a confession of failure, a confession of defeat. It was also a confession of need. Some men would have been too proud to have made it. What a terrible thing is pride, that damning pride that makes us unwilling to confess our sin even to God. "For he that covereth his sin shall not prosper." But "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Peter was different. That was his salvation. He blurted out the whole pitiful story and threw himself on the mercy of Jesus. And what happened? That which always happens when men thus pray. "Immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand and caught him." And Peter, who had walked and had sunk, rose and walked again. And so may you and so may every single sinking and floundering and failing soul here. All you need to do is pray as Peter prayed and to believe as Peter believed.
And now, my brethren, do you not agree that we need more of the faith that made Peter undertake his mad enterprise? Isn't the tragedy of the Church to-day just this, that the average Christian is not walking by faith, but by sight? That is the reason we have so little of that high spirit of daring that marked the early Church. That is the reason that life for many of us is so dull and prosaic. What we need is faith. For faith is not a tame and spineless thing that dares nothing. Real faith dares something, something big and brawny, beyond the human. Hence it brings into life the thrill of finest romance.
"Come," said Jesus, and Peter gave an instant obedience. May you and I be as wise. For our Lord is inviting us just as He invited Peter. Are you thirsty? He says, "Come to me and drink." Are you hungry? He says, "Come and dine." Are you tired and burdened? He says, "Come and I will give you rest." Are you eager to be of service? He says, "Come,—and out of your inner life shall flow rivers of living water." Brethren, all our needs are met in Him. He is our sufficiency. He is summoning us even now to venture upon Him. "Will you make the venture?
"Out of my shameful failure and loss, Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come; Into the glorious gain of Thy cross, Jesus, I come to Thee; Out of the depths of ruin untold, Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold, Ever hereafter Thy face to behold, Jesus, I come to Thee."
"That I may know . . . the fellowship of His sufferings." Weymouth gives this translation: "I long to share His sufferings." Paul is here leading us into the very innermost sanctuary of his heart. He is revealing to us the supreme passion of his life. He is letting us know what is his one great ambition. "I long," he says. And knowing what a mighty man he was we lean eagerly forward that we may hear the word that comes from his lips. For we are keen to know what is the dearest desire of this brave heart.
And as we listen this is the perplexing word that comes to us: "I long to share in His sufferings." How startlingly strange that longing is. We are half ready to wonder if we have heard aright. And when we realize that we have, we instinctively think of the words of the Roman governor, Festus: "Paul, thou art beside thyself. Much learning doth make thee mad." We wonder if Festus was not right after all. Isn't Paul a bit insane?
"I long to share in His suffering." It sounds like madness to many of us because it is so foreign to our own deepest desires. Had Paul said, "I long for a place of honor; I long that my presence should elicit the applause of the world and call forth the crowns of the world"; had he said this, we could easily have understood him. Had he expressed a longing for a place in the hall of fame, had he said, "My one desire is that the world shall keep sacred my memory," he would have been easily understood by us. We would have said "This is very natural and very human." But that is not what he says. This is his strange language: "I long to share in Christ's sufferings."
Had Paul said that he longed to escape pain and anguish and sorrow we might also have understood him. Had he said, "I long to escape the penalty of sin even though I live in sin," many of us could have appreciated this desire. For there are always those who, while they do not yearn especially for deliverance from sin, do yearn to be saved from its penalty. They do not desire to be saved from the sowing of tares, but they want to be saved from the reaping of the harvest. They do not pray for deliverance from the broad road, but they desire that this broad road terminate at the gate of Heaven instead of at the gate of destruction. Had this man said that he desired to escape hell everybody could have sympathized with him. But that is not his desire.
What he said was entirely different. "I long," he says, "to share in the sufferings of Christ; I long to weep as He wept; I long to sympathize as He sympathized; I long to travel life by His road; I long to pass through His Gethsemane and to climb His Calvary and to share in my finite way in His Cross." It is an amazing desire. What is its secret?
Why could Paul truly say such a word as this? In the first place, he could not say it because it was natural for him. There had been a time when he had given utterance to such a statement it would have been grossly false. When Paul rode out from Jerusalem on his way to Damascus, for instance, he longed for anything else more than he longed to share in the sufferings of Christ. It required a marvelous change. It required an absolute transformation to bring Paul to the place where he was able to give utterance to this high and heroic sentiment. He was not possessed of such a longing by nature.
Nor did Paul long to share in the sufferings of Christ because he looked upon these sufferings as trivial. Few men have ever understood the sufferings of Christ as did Paul. He had an appreciation of their intensity and of their bitterness far beyond most other men. He understood as few have ever understood the physical agonies of the Cross. Paul was a great physical sufferer himself.
But he knew what we sometimes forget, that infinitely the deepest pain of Jesus was not physical. Had there been nothing involved in His crucifixion but physical agony then we are forced to acknowledge that many of His followers have endured the same kind of pain with a fortitude to which He was a stranger. His agony was from another source. He suffered because He was made "to be sin for us, who knew no sin." He suffered in that "he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities." It was this fact that wrung from Him that bitterest of all cries, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
Nor did Paul possess this desire because he longed for pain in itself. Paul was not a calloused soul. Few men have ever been more sensitive to pain. He had no more fondness for being shipwrecked than you and I have. He had no more pleasure in being stoned, in being publicly whipped, in being thrown into dark dungeons and stenchful prison cells than you and I have. He no more delighted in being ridiculed and ostracized than you and I would delight in these things. Paul took no more pleasure in hunger and cold, in peril and nakedness, in agony and tears than you and I would take in them.
Yet we find him longing to share in the sufferings of Christ. Why did he long for this strange privilege? There are two reasons. He longed to share in Christ's sufferings, first, because he genuinely and passionately loved Christ. If you have ever at any time truly loved anybody you will be able to understand this longing of Saint Paul. It is the nature of love to always seek either to spare or to share the pain of the loved one.
One of the sweetest stories in our American literature, I think, is that of "The Wife" told by Washington Irving. You remember it. It has been re-enacted a thousand times over. A man of wealth has lost his fortune. He is heart-broken over it, not on his own account but on account of his wife. She has been tenderly nurtured. He is sure that poverty will break her heart. But he has to tell her. The lovely home in the city must be given up. They must move to a cottage in the country. He enters upon the hard ordeal. It is his Gethsemane. But to his utter amazement he finds his wife more joyous, more genuinely happy in the midst of this trying experience than he has ever known her to be before. What is the secret? She is in love with her husband and loving him, it is her keenest joy to be able to share his sorrow with him.
The wife of the southern poet, Sidney Lanier, was just such a one as Irving's heroine. You will recall what a long hard fight Lanier had with sickness and poverty and what a tower of strength through it all was the gentle and tender woman who loved him.
"In the heart of the Hills of Life, I know Two springs that with unbroken flow Forever pour their lucent streams Into my soul's far Lake of Dreams.
Not larger than two eyes, they lie, Beneath the many-changing sky And mirror all of life and time, —Serene and dainty pantomime.
Shot through with lights of stars and dawns, And shadowed sweet by ferns and fawns, —Thus heaven and earth together vie Their shining depth to sanctify.
Always when the large Form of Love Is hid by storms that rage above, I gaze in my two springs and see Love in his very verity.
* * * *
O Love, O Wife, thine eyes are they, —My springs from out whose shining gray Issue the sweet celestial streams That feed my life's bright Lake of Dreams.
Oval and large and passion-pure And gray and wise and honor-sure; Soft as a dying violet-breath Yet calmly unafraid of death.
* * * *
Dear eyes, dear eyes and rare complete— Being heavenly-sweet and earthly-sweet, —I marvel that God made you mine, For when He frowns, 'tis then ye shine!"
Now, what was there in the seeming frown of God to make the eyes of love shine? It was just this: they were alight with the joy that comes when love is privileged to share the pain of the beloved.
I heard a grizzled old soldier who was an officer in the Civil War tell of a raw recruit who came into his regiment. This recruit was awkward and uncouth and unattractive. He seemed to be little more than an incarnate blunder. He would stumble and fall down over his own musket. Naturally he was the butt of many jokes. He was the laughing stock of all his comrades. But this officer said that he tried to befriend him. But if the uncouth fellow appreciated his efforts to help him he never said so. He seemed as awkward in expressing himself as he was in all other respects.
"One night," said this officer, "we were sleeping without tents and it was bitter cold. I shivered under my blanket till I went to sleep. When I waked in the morning, however, I was warm. Then I noticed, to my astonishment, that I was sleeping under two blankets instead of one. I looked about me for an explanation. A little way off was this gawky, green, uncouth soldier striding back and forth with the snow pelting him in the face. He was waving his thin arms as he walked to keep from freezing to death. That soldier died a few days later. He died from the exposure of that night. But a smile was on his face as I sat beside him." Now, why did the soldier smile? You know. He was rejoicing that he was able to spare and to share the suffering of his friend.
"I long to share in His sufferings." That is the language of love. To one who does not know love it will forever be a mystery. But to the lover it is easily comprehensible. Any real mother can understand it. Down in Tennessee a few years ago a mother was out riding with her little boy. The horse took fright and ran away. The buggy was wrecked. The mother escaped without injury. But the little lad was so crippled that he was never able to sit up again.
Now, before this tragic accident the mother of this little wounded boy had been very active in the life of her Church and community. But with the coming of this great sorrow she had to give up all outside work. She gave herself instead night and day to the nursing of her boy. At times she would hold the little fellow in her arms for almost the whole night through. At last, after three years, the angel of release came and the patient sufferer went home. And there were those in the community who said, "I know that his mother will grieve. Yet his home-going must be a bit of a relief."
But what said the mother when the minister went to see her? She met the preacher at the door and as love's sweet rain ran down her face she did not say anything about being relieved at all. But this is what she said: "Oh, Brother, my little boy is gone and I can't get to do anything for him any more." Why, it was the grief of her heart that the little fellow had gone out beyond the reach of her hand where she could no longer have the joy of offering herself a living sacrifice upon the altar of his need. She longed to continually share in his suffering.
So Paul wanted to share in the sufferings of Christ because he loved Christ. Then he wanted to share in the sufferings of Christ, in the second place, because he knew that suffering was involved in being like Christ. You may suffer and yet be un-Christlike, but no man can be Christlike and fail to suffer. If you ever, by the grace of God, become a partaker of the divine nature you must also inevitably become a partaker of His sufferings.
To be Christlike is to suffer for the very simple reason that Christ cannot be what He is and fail to suffer in and for a world like ours. What is the nature of Christ? Christ is like God. Christ is God. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." But what is God? There are many definitions. There is only one all comprehensive and all inclusive definition. That is that sentence of pure gold that fell from the lips of the apostle that leaned upon the bosom of his Lord. "What is God?" I ask this man who had such a wonderful knowledge of Him. And he answers, "God is love."
Now since God is love He must suffer. He cannot look upon the lost and ruined of this world without grief. He cannot behold the tragic quarrel of man with Himself without taking it to heart. There is nothing more true nor, in the deepest sense, more reasonable than this tender sentence: "In all their afflictions He was afflicted." Our afflictions must afflict Him because "His nature and His name is love."
J. Wilbur Chapman tells how he one night explored the slums of New York with Sam Hadley. About one o'clock in the morning they separated to go to their own homes. Dr. Chapman said he had not gone far before he heard Mr. Hadley saying, "Oh! Oh! Oh!" And he looked back to see his friend wringing his hands in deepest agony. He hurried to his side thinking that he had been taken suddenly ill. "What is the matter?" he asked. And the great mission worker turned his pain-pinched face back toward the slums out of which they had come and said, "Oh, the sin! Oh, the heartache! Oh, the wretchedness! It will break my heart. It has broken my heart."
Now, just as Christ cannot be Christ and not suffer in a world like ours, so He cannot be Himself and fail to make a sacrificial effort to save this world. What says the gem of the Gospel? "God so loved the world that He gave." What was the song that abidingly made Paul's heart to pulsate with heavenly hallelujahs? Just this: "He loved me and gave Himself for me." Love grieves. It does more. It serves. Love beholds the city and weeps over it. But it is not satisfied with that. It also goes to the Cross for that city over which it weeps. Sam Hadley wrings his hands in grief over the wretched in New York's slums, but he does more. He goes to their rescue.
So when Paul said, "I long to share His sufferings" he meant, "I long to be, in the truest sense, like Him. I long to see the world through His eyes. I long to feel toward men as Christ feels toward them. I long to sacrifice for them in my finite way as He sacrificed for them." And what was the outcome of this longing? There are some ambitions that God cannot gratify. To do so would only mean our impoverishment and our ruin. But such is not the case here. God graciously granted the satisfying of this longing of Saint Paul.
Listen to the testimony to the truth of that fact from his own lips. "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Again he says, "For to me to live is Christ." That is, "For to me to live is to reproduce Christ. For to me to live is for Christ to live over again in me." In a most profound and vital sense he has come to share in the divine nature.
Having come to share in the divine nature he is privileged also to share in His sufferings. His ministry is a daily dying. He is a man of great heaviness and continual sorrow. The secret of his pain is this: "I fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ in my body." In sharing thus his Master's sufferings he shared with him in His work of bringing salvation to men. To-day we could better spare many a nation than we could spare this one single man.
And now we are going to gather about this altar where we shall remember together the suffering love of Jesus Christ. As we take the bread and wine we are going to be reminded of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord. And I trust that as we think upon His love and upon His sacrifice for ourselves we shall come to be possessed with the holy longing of this great apostle. May we too be able to say, "I long to share in His suffering." This high longing is possible for every one of us through the riches of His grace. And it is possible in no other way. Therefore, let us gather round this table with this song within our hearts:
"Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart; Come quickly from above, Write thy new name upon my heart, Thy new, best name of Love."
I Samuel 23:16
"And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David into the wood and strengthened his hand in God." "Going visiting" is a very commonplace occurrence. Oftentimes the visits we make are thoroughly trivial and unimportant. But there are other times when our visits take on a profound significance. There are times when they mark a crisis. There are times when they set in motion influences that tell on the entire future of those whom we visit. There are times when they mean the making or the marring of a human soul.
Now, this visit about which we are to study to-day is no ordinary visit. I think it is one of the most beautiful stories to be found in literature. This visit was made many centuries ago. It was made in an obscure corner of the earth, and yet it has never been forgotten. It never will be. The Inspirer of the Word saw in it too much of worth and winsomeness to allow it to slip out of the memories of men. It is remembered to-day, not because Jonathan left his calling card on David's center table. It is remembered because the visit was so blessedly beautiful.
It is a great privilege that God has given us in allowing us to visit each other. We can help so much by it if we will. Wasn't that a lovely visit that the old school master made to Marget that time in "Beside the Bonny Briar Bush" when he came to tell her that she had a "laddie of parts"? And wasn't it still more beautiful when he came later, rugged old Scotchman that he was, to burst into tears of wild joy over the good news he brought her that her son had won first prize in the great university?
Wasn't that a lovely series of visits that a kindly old man made to the room of the little laddie who had swept the street crossing before he had been crippled in the discharge of his duty? A city missionary went in to see him and asked him if he had had anybody to visit him. "Oh, yes," was the answer. "A good man comes every day and talks to me, and sometimes he reads the Bible to me and prays." "What is his name?" asked the missionary. And the little fellow studied a moment and said, "I think he said his name was Gladstone." England's grand old man appears to us in many a charming role, but in none is he more manly and commanding than in this of visiting a little crippled waif in a London attic.
Florence Nightingale was a lovely visitor. Do you recall that exquisite bit of poetry in conduct on the field of Crimea? A soldier was to go through a painful operation. An anaesthetic could not be administered and the doctor said the patient could not endure the operation. "Yes, I can," said the patient, "under one condition: if you will get the 'Angel of the Crimea' to hold my hand." And she came out to the little hospital at the front and held his hand. Glorious visit. No wonder the man went through the operation without a tremor.
But the visit of our text,—to me it is more wonderful still. The truth of the matter is, I know of but one other visit that ever took place that is finer and more beautiful. You know what visit that was. It was the visit that One made to a manger in Bethlehem nineteen centuries ago. That was a visit that remade the world. It was so wonderful that a star pointed it out with finger of silver, and our discordant old earth was serenaded with the music of that land of eternal melody. But aside from that one visit, I think this the most beautiful one ever recorded.
What is the secret of its beauty? First, it was beautiful in its courageous loyalty. You know who Jonathan was. He was the King's son. He was popular, handsome and courageous. So lithe, athletic and graceful he was that they called him "the gazelle." He was a prince. He was heir-apparent to the throne of Israel.
And you know, also, who David was. He was at that time in disgrace. He was under the frown of the King. He was being hunted from one refuge to another like a wild beast. To be his friend was to be the enemy of the King. To smile upon him was to meet the frown of the King.
But notwithstanding the fact that these men were so far apart, one a favorite prince and the other an outcast peasant, yet we find the prince visiting the peasant. You say they were friends. Yes, that is true, deeply true. But their friendship had started in other days. When David and Jonathan first met they met under altogether different circumstances. You know when Jonathan first saw David. It was when David returned from his fight with Goliath, with the bloody head of the giant in his hand. He met him amidst the hurrahs and the wild enthusiasm of the people. He met him on one of the great red letter days of David's life, when he sprang suddenly from obscurity to be a national hero.
It does not seem so surprising, therefore, when we read that on this day "the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David." David was courageous. David had shown himself a hero. David was a favorite with the King and a favorite with the people. It took no great effort to love him then. It took no great courage to be his friend. But all is changed now. The King no longer loves him, but hates him and seeks his life. The sun of his popularity has gone into eclipse. We wonder if Jonathan's friendship will stand the test.
And again we turn and read the text: "And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David into the wood and strengthened his hand in God." What beautiful loyalty. What fine fidelity. How blessed is David in the friendship of a man who can love him in the sunshine and who can love him no less in the midst of the shadows. How blessed he is in the friendship of one who can stand by him when many lips praise him and who can also stand by him when many abuse him, and many criticise him and many lift their hands against him. Truly this man loves David for himself alone.
Second, this visit is beautiful because of its fine and costly sympathy. Jonathan really sympathized with David in his trials and his difficulties. He did not express that sympathy in any cheap and distant way. He might have sent David word that if he needed anything just to let him know. He might have dispatched a servant to comfort David in his sore trials. But he did not try to express his sympathy at long distance. He went to David. He came to handclasp with the man that he wished to help.
Now, I am perfectly aware of the fact that much of our sympathy must be expressed at a distance. For instance, we cannot all go to the foreign field. We must express our interest in those who have not had our opportunities by our gifts. Much of the service we render in our own land must be rendered in the same way. But when that is said, the fact still remains that there is nothing that will take the place of our hand-to-hand dealing with those who need us. We cannot perform all our charities by proxy. We must come in personal contact with those whom we would help.
There is one poem I think that we have a bit overworked:
"Let me live in my house by the side of the road, Where the race of men go by. They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong, Wise, foolish—and so am I. So why should I sit in the scorner's seat, Or hurl the cynic's ban? Let me live in my house by the side of the road, And be a friend to man.
"I see from my house by the side of the road, By the side of the highway of life, The men that press on with the ardor of hope, And the men who are faint in the strife. But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears, Both parts of an infinite plan. Let me live in my house by the side of the road, And be a friend to man.
"I know there are brook gladdened meadows ahead, And mountains of wearisome height. And the road passes on through the long afternoon, And stretches away to the night. But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice, And weep with the strangers that moan, Nor live in my house by the side of the road, Like one who dwells alone."
Now that is good, but after all,—
"It's only a half truth the poet has sung Of the house by the side of the way. Our Master had neither a house nor a home, But He walked with the crowd day by day. I think when I read of the poet's desire That a house by the road would be good, But service is found in its tenderest form As we walk with the crowd in the road.
"So I say let me walk with the men in the road, Let me seek out the burdens that crush; Let me speak a kind word of good cheer to the weak Who are falling behind in the rush. There are wounds to be healed, there are breaks we must mend, There are cups of cold water to give, And the man in the road by the side of his friend, Is the man who has learned how to give.
"Then tell me no more of the house by the road, There is only one place I can live. It is there where the men are toiling along, Who are needing the help I can give. 'Tis pleasant to dwell in the house by the road, And be a friend, as the poet has said, But the Master is bidding us, Bear ye their load, Your rest waiteth yonder ahead.
"So I can not remain in the house by the road, And watch as the toilers pass on, Their faces beclouded with pain and with shame, So burdened, their strength nearly gone. I will go to their side, I will speak in good cheer, I will help them to carry their load. And I'll smile at the man in the house by the way, While I walk with the crowd in the road.
"Out there in the road that runs by the house Where the poet is singing his song, I'll walk and I'll work midst the heat of the day, And I'll help falling brothers along. Too busy to dwell in the house by the way, Too happy for such an abode, And my glad heart will sing to the Master of all, Who is helping me serve in the road."
And the beauty and glory of this lovely visit that Prince Jonathan made to David, the outcast, was that he walked with him in the road. He did not dwell in his princely palace and send him some money. He did not allow him, as Dives allowed Lazarus, to gather up the crumbs. He went to him. And because he went to him he helped him. Oh, heart, that is the secret of the salvation wrought by our Lord. He came to us. Had He merely come for the day and gone back to Heaven at night, He would never have saved us. He came into personal contact with us. That is how He lifts us.
This visit was beautiful, in the third place, because of its high and holy purpose. I see Jonathan as he is turning his face toward the forest where David is hiding. I say to him, "Prince Jonathan, you are going down to see David, I understand. Why are you going?" This is his answer: "I am going down to strengthen his hand in God. You know David has had a hard time recently. He has been sorely tried. He has been bitterly disappointed. He has passed through one great sorrow after another. I am afraid his faith is going to be destroyed. I am afraid he will lose his grip of God unless I go to see him and help him and strengthen his hand in the Lord. And that is why I am going."
And so Jonathan hurries on. And the angels must have crowded the windows of heaven to behold him as he walked upon this glorious errand. I would go a bit out of my way any time to get to see a man who is going to see his friend, not to ask for help, but going for the one big purpose of making the man whom he is to visit a little stronger, a little better, a little more loyal to his Lord.
And not only did Jonathan go for that purpose, but he succeeded in it. When he left David, he left him a stronger man. I do not know what he said to him. That is not recorded. I do not know that he quoted scripture to him or even prayed with him. He may have. He may not have. It is not absolutely necessary to have prayer always in order to strengthen our friend in the Lord. Sometimes all we need to do is just to talk to him and let him talk, and convince him that we sympathize with him, that we are interested in him. And having done that, somehow he comes more and more to believe in God's interest.
But whatever Jonathan said, David was stronger and better and braver after he had gone. I think I can hear him as he looks after the retreating figure going through the forest. And what he is saying to himself is this, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name." And I think when the books are balanced in Heaven that Jonathan will get quite a bit of credit for David's exquisite music. There are terrible clashes in his songs. "He that did eat of my bread hath lifted up his heel against me." Jonathan did not inspire that. But there is many a blessed passage that might never have been written but for the loyal and loving and constant friendship of Prince Jonathan.
And last of all, this visit was beautiful in its self-forgetfulness. Its beauty reached its climax here. Just think of the circumstances. Samuel, the prophet, has declared that David is to be king. But in everybody's mind, the throne by right belongs to Jonathan. David is in perplexity. He is on the point of losing his faith. If he loses it he never will be king. This will give Jonathan his chance.
Now, why, I wonder, didn't Jonathan feel about this matter as many of us would? Why did he not hold aloof and say, "If David fails and loses his chance it is no fault of mine. If he fails it will only mean that he will not take away the throne that by right belongs to me." No attitude would have been more human than this. I do not know how many nights Jonathan spent in prayer to be delivered from the bondage of his selfishness. But I do know this, that he was delivered.
And I want you to watch him as he goes down into this forest to see David to-day to strengthen his hand in God. I said we do not know his conversation with David. We do know a bit of it, and that is this, that he encouraged David to believe God, to believe this one particular promise at least, that God was going to see to it that David was king. And when you see Jonathan going thus into the woods he is going for the deliberate purpose of taking the crown off his own brow and putting it upon the brow of another. He is abdicating the throne in behalf of this outcast friend of his who is hiding here in the forest.
You will doubtless agree, therefore, that this old world has not been blessed with many visits so beautiful as this. Watch this Prince as he goes into the wood. His stride is like that of another:
"Into the woods my Master went, Clean forspent, forspent; Into the woods my Master came, Forspent with love and shame. But the olive trees were not blind to Him, And the little gray leaves were kind to Him, And the thorn tree had a mind to Him, When into the woods He came.
"Out of the woods my Master went, And He was well content; Out of the woods my Master came, Content with death and shame. When death and shame would woo Him last, From under the trees they drew Him last, 'Twas on a tree they slew him—last When out of the woods He came."
Yes, Jonathan went into the woods to uncrown himself! to empty himself for his friend! Truly "the spirit and mind was in him that was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God thought it not a thing to be clung to to be equal with God, but emptied Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."