Great Texts of the Bible
An Open Bible and a Burning Heart
And they said one to another, Was not our heart burning within us, while he spake to us in the way, while he opened to us the scriptures?—Luke 24:32.
1. What a day of surprises it was, that marvellous first Easter Day! Early in the morning, before the sun had risen, the little group of broken-hearted women, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary, mother of James, issuing from the gates, and through the darkness bearing spices for the body in the tomb, and finding that the body was no longer there! Malice could it portend? or what? Straightway the message carried to Peter and to John, their hurried visit to the sepulchre, and corroboration of the strange report; the linen cloths still lying in their place, the napkin—which had bound the head—still lying in its folds, separately, on the stone pillow, where the head had lain, but the body gone, withdrawn from the embrace of death! And they go back to their own home. Next, the solitary return of Mary Magdalene, and that first appearance of the Risen Lord, with its strange utterance, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended.” And then again that fuller manifestation to the disciples who journeyed to Emmaus, from which we draw our text.
Throughout the Resurrection records it is always the unexpected that happens. They are no work of human fancy. Who would have invented a first appearance to Mary Magdalene, and a second to these unknown disciples, of whom one only, Cleopas, is so much as named, while both alike have no other place in the Gospel history? Their home was within walking distance of Jerusalem, upon the road that led seawards towards Joppa. Emmaus lay some seven miles or more upon the route from Jerusalem. They had been of those who had gone up to the great Passover, full of hopeful, strange presentiments. They had shared the expectation that Jesus, in whom they believed, “a prophet mighty in deed and word,” whom they took to be the Christ, might at the feast manifest Himself. “We hoped that it was he which should redeem Israel.” And on them too had fallen the crushing disenchantment, the overthrow of all their hopes, the arrest, the crucifixion, and the death. They had seen Him numbered with the malefactors; they had perhaps helped to carry Him to the grave; and upon this miserable morning, sick at heart with grief and disappointment, they were gathered with the disciples plunged in speechless gloom of bereavement and spiritual despair. At least we know that, when tidings reached them of an empty tomb and of a vision of angels, it did not even keep them in Jerusalem. It did not kindle any gleam of hope. They thought of it, drearily, as one more unkindness to the dead. The festival was over; they must go their ways; and, with perhaps the customary prayer of parting in the Temple precincts, they took the homeward way.
It was noon, or later, as they passed out of the city gates, through the hot Syrian sun, and, like other groups of wayfarers, took the high road north-westward. Alone together, as friends will, they opened their hearts; “they communed with each other of all these things which had happened.” Sometimes they walked, talking rapidly, aloud, with the vehemence of Eastern men; and then again “they stood still, looking sad.” How graphic it all is! And may we not read in it an allegory of actual life? It is in the communings of friends, two and two, that not seldom Jesus Christ, perhaps at the time unrecognized, draws near. So absorbed were they in their own thoughts and griefs that they hardly noticed the stranger who overtook them and became a silent sharer in their conversation. It is the same Jesus who in the gospel narrative seems always so unmistakably Himself. “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe,” He said, with His own accent of wondering, expostulating love. And yet “their eyes were holden that they should not know him.” How was it? We can only guess by interrogating our own hearts. What is it, as we go wayfaring through life, that holds our eyes, so that sometimes we perceive the voice of Jesus, and then at other times, though He is close and speaking audibly, and in the very way we might have expected, we do not know or recognize?
Lord Christ, if Thou art with us and these eyes
Are holden, while we sadly go and say
“We hoped it had been He, and now to-day
Is the third day, and hope within us dies,”
Bear with us, O our Master—Thou art wise
And knowest our foolishness; we do not pray
“Declare Thyself, since weary grows the way,
And faith’s new burden hard upon us lies”;
Nay, choose Thy time, but ah"! whoe’er Thou art,
Leave us not; where have we heard any voice
Like Thine? our hearts burn in us as we go;
Stay with us; break our bread; so, for our part
Ere darkness falls haply we may rejoice,
Haply when day has been far spent may know.1 [Note: Edward Dowden.]
2. They were out of heart. They had so built on hope, they had so trusted it was He that should redeem Israel, they had looked for a national deliverance, for the proclamation of a king. And all had failed, irreparably, as it seemed, and on their hearts there lay the “sense of void, of hopes not satisfied, of promises withdrawn.” When we are cast down, when some spiritual expectation fails us, when that from which we had hoped most for ourselves or for others whom we care for turns out a failure, and only convinces us of weakness and of helplessness, it is hard to believe that Christ is even then and there preparing a revelation of Himself. Yet just when we are despondent and low-hearted, and once and again going over the grounds on which we built our hopes, and asking, Where was my mistake, why has He failed me so? even then, it may be, Christ is Himself near to make it plain.
We have all our times of perplexity and sorrow. I do not mean those who naturally take a pessimistic view of life, and whose outlook is usually dashed in with colours of sepia, but Christians generally, both as members of a corporate body and in their own personal experience. There are few who have not been conscious of “an hour of darkness,” a season in which they have a peculiar sense of spiritual loneliness and desertion, and which is followed by distressing doubts and troubles—similar to those which the two disciples felt on their way to Emmaus; similar, for of course they cannot be the same; their future is our past, and we are fully assured of the fact of Christ’s Resurrection, no less than of His life and death; but we may be like them in the bitter recollection of our desertion of Him, the uncertainty of His forgiveness, and apprehension lest He should hide His face for ever. If this be so, let us not escape from our sadness by letting our religion slip away from us or by plunging into the cares and pleasures of life. Rather let us meditate on all the Saviour has done and suffered for us, and the gracious promises He has made to us, and be assured, though we seem to be solitary, He is never really far from us. He can read our thoughts and note our sadness, but if we go on quietly, under the light of His presence, all doubt and anxiety will pass away.1 [Note: M. Fuller, In Terrâ Pax, 59.]
When Robert Louis Stevenson visited the leper settlement at Molokai in 1889 he had as fellow passengers in the boat nursing sisters going to work on the island. “And when I found that one of them was crying, poor soul, quietly under her veil, I cried a little myself. I thought it was a sin and a shame that she should feel unhappy. I turned round to her and said something like this: ‘Ladies, God Himself is here to give you welcome.’ ”2 [Note: Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ii. 154.]
How like my Master it was, to go after those two sorrowing ones on the very day of His triumphant resurrection! He thought it worth while to walk seven miles, and spend two hours in the work of comforting two obscure, lowly, dejected disciples. He seems never to have spoken, as the Risen One, to any but sorrowing disciples. And He spoke only comfort; nothing else. Never a word about their sin; never a word of reproof; only words of good cheer, unfolding His own glory, and their glory in following Him. Living Himself in the joy of victory, He only wished them to be sharers in that joy.3 [Note: G. H. Knight, The Master’s Questions to His Disciples, 329.]
He is not far away:
Why do we sometimes seem to be alone,
And miss the hands outstretched to meet our own?
He is the same to-day,
As when of old He dwelt
In human form with His disciples—when
He knew the needs of all His fellow-men,
And all their sorrows felt.
Only our faith is dim,
So that our eyes are holden, and we go
All day, and until dusk, before we know
That we have walked with Him.4 [Note: E. H. Divall, A Believer’s Rest, 89.]
3. He comforted them by opening to them the Scriptures. By a single word He might have revealed Himself, as when to that early watcher at the sepulchre He said “Mary,” and she cast herself at His feet; or, as He came at evening into the midst of the disciples, saying “Peace be unto you,” and showing them His hands and His side. But He chose to deal with them in a different and peculiar way, giving them at first no means of personal recognition, but leading them to a gradual discovery of His true spiritual glory through enlightening in the truth, not showing them so much what was, but what they would have known must have been, if they had understood the Scriptures which they professed to believe. He who spoke to them seemed a chance-met stranger, their eyes were holden that they should not know Him; but as word after word of ancient inspiration came glowing from His lips, and prophet after prophet passed before them, a long procession of witnesses to that kingly glory of Christ which was to be reached through sufferings, which but through sufferings never could be reached, it was as if a mist had passed from their eyes—all things were beheld in a new light, and through the veil of His earthly lowliness as they remembered it, could they discern not only the light of the indwelling glory, but in the very crisis of His self-abasement, and sorrow, and weakness as He hung, desolate and forsaken, on the cross, as He cried, “It is finished,” and gave up the ghost, as He was borne in the touching helplessness of death to the grave and left there—in all this they could see that which was essential to the consummation of His redeeming work. That lowest, darkest step of all was the necessary initial step to His manifest exaltation.
Jesus Christ is not only the Interpretation, He is the Interpreter of the Scriptures, for the Scriptures contain the various efforts of men in different ages and differing degrees of religious development to find God, and Jesus Christ is the solution of this supreme problem of the human spirit. We find in Him to-day the fulfilment of the law and the prophets: we find in Him the explanation of human history; we find in Him the key to all the tragedies of human suffering and shame and sorrow. He is our interpretation of life and death, grief and joy, success and failure. In His light, life grows to us more reasonable, and its mystery more clear. He gives purpose to its least intelligible events, and reveals a meaning in its darkest catastrophes. But what I am asking you to believe is something much more than this. All this might conceivably be granted by men to whom such a knowledge would bring only a certain degree of mental satisfaction. Even if they found in the history of Christ’s life and work an explanation of the various enigmas that human life presents, they would not necessarily be quickened to a strong and eager spiritual life, nor experience any special personal blessedness. Still the deep fountains of truth and life might be closed to them. For the quickening of the spiritual energies comes from the contact of a living spirit with our own; and the Scriptures become living books to us, helpful, stimulating, inspiring, when they cease to have only an historical interest, and, in the hands of a Living Teacher and Interpreter, become alive with new thought and power for the salvation and inspiration of the men and women of to-day.1 [Note: C. S. Horne.]
Slowly along the rugged pathway walked
Two sadden’d wayfarers, bent on one quest;
With them another, who had asked to share
Their travel since they left the city walls;
Their converse too intent for speed; and oft,
Where linger’d on the rocks the sunset tints,
They check’d their footsteps, careless of the hour
And waning light and heavy falling dews.
For from the Stranger’s lips came words that burn’d
And lit the altar fuel on their hearts
Consuming fear, and quickening faith at once.
God’s oracles grew luminous as He spoke,
And all along the ages good from ill
And light from darkness sprang as day from night.
Are weary travellers on life’s rough path.
And Thou art still unchangeably the same.
Come, Lord, to us, and let us walk with Thee:
Come and unfold the words of heavenly life,
Till our souls burn within us, and the day
Breaks, and the Day-star rises in our hearts.
Yea, Lord, abide with us, rending the veil
Which hides Thee from the loving eye of faith,
Dwell with us to the world’s end evermore,
Until Thou callest us to dwell with Thee.2 [Note: E. H. Bickersteth.]
4. Now it is not suggested that Christ taught these disciples something new about the Scripture. What He gave them was a new interpretation of the old. These travellers were no strangers to the Scripture. They were Jews, and had read deeply in every book of it. When they were little children in their village homes, they had clambered round their father’s knee on Sabbaths, and had listened to the stories of Moses and David and Daniel with the eagerness that our own young folk display. They had studied Jeremiah more intently than any of us, and they had heard it expounded in the synagogue. The Scripture was a familiar book to them. And what did our Lord do when He met with them? He took the book they had studied all their lives. He turned to the pages which they knew so well. He led them down by the old familiar texts. And in the old He showed such a depth of meaning, and in the familiar such a wealth of love, and He so irradiated the prophetic mystery and so illumined its darkness with His light, that not by what was absolutely new, but by the new interpretation of the old, their hearts began to burn within them by the way.
Christ does not startle us with unexpected novelties; He touches with glory what is quite familiar. It is the familiar experiences that He explains. It is the familiar cravings that He satisfies. It is the familiar thoughts which have filled the mind since childhood that He expands into undreamed-of fulness. We have known what sin was since we were at school. Christ meets us and talks about our sin—and we learn that sin is more exceedingly sinful than we had ever thought in our most reproachful moments; we learn, too, that He died that we might be forgiven, and that there is pardon for our worst, this very hour. We have known what pain was and we have known what death was, and we have known that there was a heaven and a God; but when Christ meets us as we travel by the way and talks to us of these familiar things, there is such promise and light and love about them all that everything becomes new.1 [Note: G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, 140.]
5. What was the effect of the interpretation? Their hearts burned within them. “Was not our heart burning within us?” they said. This was the first utterance that broke from their lips in the excitement of the actual discovery. They had been so riveted by His words that they could not think of parting with Him when they reached their destination. “He made as though he would go further,” but they constrained Him to remain. And then, while joining with them in their simple meal, as He took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them—whether the action recalled what they must have heard, the scene in the upper chamber before His death, or they saw the print of the nails—their eyes were opened, and they knew Him, and He vanished. A gladdening discovery, but it was not this that made their hearts burn within them; it was the spiritual discovery of Himself to the soul before they knew Him thus.
What set their hearts a-burning was not the mere word of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the Christ who was behind the word. It was their immediate contact with that personality, and the mysterious outflow of His life upon them, that stirred them as only personality can do, and moved their nature to its very depths.
When the essayist Hazlitt was a young man at home, his mind was dull and his faculties unawakened. But in one of those charming essays that he calls “Wintersloe,” he narrates how the poet Coleridge came to see his father, and young Hazlitt walked several miles home with him. Hazlitt tells, in his own eager and eloquent way, all that the walk with Coleridge meant for him. It quickened his intellect, gave him a new world, put a new radiance into the sunset for him, and a new note into the song of every bird. His heart began to burn, and it was not the talk that did it; it was the poet who was behind the talk.1 [Note: G. H. Morrison, The Unlighled Lustre, 141.]
Hath not thy heart within thee burned
At evening’s calm and holy hour,
As if its inmost depths discerned
The presence of a loftier power?
Hast thou not heard ’mid forest glades
While ancient rivers murmured by,
A voice from forth the eternal shades,
That spake a present Deity?
And as, upon the sacred page,
Thine eye in rapt attention turned
O’er records of a holier age,
Hath not thy heart within thee burned?
It was the voice of God, that spake
In silence to thy silent heart;
And bade each worthier thought awake,
And every dream of earth depart.
Voice of our God, O yet be near!
In low, sweet accents, whisper peace;
Direct us on our pathway here;
Then bid in heaven our wanderings cease.1 [Note: S. G. Bulfinch.]
6. Here we have the first recorded instance of emotions kindled in the human soul which since that hour have never ceased. It was the movement of the higher spirit in man, illuminated and quickened by the Eternal Spirit of our Lord Himself. We must not trust to all emotions; they need to be tested by reason, to be confirmed by experience; they need to be examined as to their conformity to the will of God. But emotions, warm feelings in the soul, are a power, which, animating the soul, urging it onward, enable it to endure, and give it power to act. Intellectual conceptions are necessary, but they do not supply force of action, nor are they the kindling powers urging us on in the higher life. Even the conscientious sense of duty, noble gift as it is, grand as it is in its effects, has not the quickening active power, the animating sustaining force of emotions stirred by the Spirit of God, moving the affections. These inspirations, these movings of the Spirit, these burnings of heart, were what the Greek Paganism, in the midst of which the Church grew up, had to reckon with. The Pagan Empire brought all its power, all its cruelty, all the strength of ages of dominion, to bear on these emotions, on these burnings of heart of the weakest and poorest, even of the child. And all failed. It was these emotions, these kindlings of heart, filled with the Spirit of God, that met the Roman Empire in its desire to extinguish the infant Church.
True religion cannot afford to neglect any elements of man’s complex nature; and so it finds room for emotion. That glow of the soul with which it should hail the Presence of its Maker and Redeemer is as much His handiwork as the thinking power which apprehends His message or the resolve which enterprises to do His will. Yet religious emotion, like natural fire, is a good servant but a bad master. It is the ruin of real religion when it blazes up into a fanaticism which, in its exaltation of certain states of feeling, proscribes thought, and makes light of duty, and dispenses with means of grace, and passes through some phase of frantic, although disguised self-assertion into some further phase of indifference or despair. But, when kept well in hand, emotion is the warmth and lustre of the soul’s life. It announces the nearness and the beauty of the King of Truth; it lifts the performance of duty from the level of mechanical obedience to the level of ordered enthusiasm. Often, as in the souls of the two disciples, it is as the brightness of the dawn, which should tell that the Sun of Truth is near.
Lift up your eyes, even now His coming glows;
Where on the skirt of yon heaven-kissing hill
The trees stand motionless
Upon the silvery dawn.
Deep ocean treasures all her gems unseen,
To pave an archway to the Eternal door;
And earth doth rear her flowers
To strew the heavenly road.
“We have made great strides forward in every line of accomplishment except that of original, true, and emotional preaching,” said the other, as if waking out of a reverie. “I agree,” said his companion; “but emotion in itself is not an art but a gift. The business of the artist is to direct emotion, tone it into a rhythm, and make it effective.”1 [Note: F. Grierson, The Invincible Alliance (1913), 49.]
In religion there is, there ever must be, an emotional element. Noble emotion, lofty and purified feeling, is ever the homage paid by human nature to the beauty of Goodness, and the attraction and even entrancing loveliness of Truth. Nature, in her tender and majestic moods of softness or of storm; human nature, in its external fairness of form or of expression, more still in its interior attractiveness of purity or of self-forgetting—these have a power unrivalled in force and persistence of awakening and stimulating the nobler and loftier feelings of the human heart. Sweet to the soul at eventide is the voice of the sweet singer; sweet to a generous heart and an earnest mind the burning word of encouragement, or the supporting glance of affection from a fair face speaking the thought of a soul beautiful and loved and strong. Human nature—human nature, so sad, so wrecked, so erring, yet so beautiful, with the likeness of a Divine life, and the air of a better country still upon it, despite the Fall,—this, above all, will waken the human soul, and send the heart throbbing in waves of noble, therefore of bravely controlled, emotion.
What else is the meaning of the high office of poetry, of painting, of music? By what else do you thrill in romantic literature under the touch of the master’s hand? How otherwise, but through this response of feeling, come many of those re-awakings of nobler thoughts and intentions which often fill us with shame at shortcoming, and through sorrow and pity undoubtedly do us good? Naturally, then, when the better vision of a heavenly country, when the fairer vision of Him who is “chiefest among ten thousand and altogether lovely,” are presented to the human mind, these will kindle our enthusiasm and fire our feelings. This is not wrong—on the contrary, it is right and real, and it may be blessed. Only let us remember that such feelings, indeed, are religious, but they are not Religion; if with them we allow ourselves to be content, we shall make a great mistake. They become dangerous if they are not—to borrow a phrase from chemistry—precipitated into conduct, if they do not leave behind them a deposit of more firmly fixed conviction, a residuum of unassailable principle, and a calmer depth of conscientious resolve.1 [Note: W. J. Knox Little, The Light of Life, 125.]
An Open Bible and a Burning Heart
Allen (G. W.), Wonderful Words and Works, 1.
Burns (J. D.), Memoir and Remains, 399.
Burrell (D. J.), God and the People, 252.
Carter (T. T.), The Spirit of Watchfulness, 134.
Cobern (C. M.), The Stars and the Book, 28.
Fuller (M.), In Terrâ Pax, 50.
Gregg (D.), Our Best Moods, 9.
Liddon (H. P.), Easter in St. Paul’s, 192.
Morrison (G. H.), The Unlighted Lustre, 133.
Mortimer (A. G.), Jesus and the Resurrection, 160.
Nicoll (W. R.), The Garden of Nuts, 123.
Ramage (W.), Sermons, 263.
Robarts (J. H.), Sunday Morning Talks, 104.
Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 279.
Temple (W.), Repton School Sermons, 325.
Young (D. T.), The Travels of the Heart, 221.
Christian Age, xxix. 260 (T. de W. Talmage).
Christian World Pulpit, xli. 292 (C. S. Home); lv. 100 (J. C. Lambert).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Easter Day and Season, vii. 393 (J. C. Lambert).
Homiletic Review, xix. 356 (G. F. Greene).
Preacher’s Magazine, xii. 123 (J. T. L. Maggs).
Record of Christian Work, xxix. (1910) 855 (J. A. Hutton).