The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.Chapter 66
Readers of the Outside
The Pharisees and the Sadducees had looked upon the whole demonstration of evidence applied by Jesus Christ in the course of his varied and exciting ministry, and were exactly in the same condition of unbelief and disguised or avowed hostility as before. No impression had been made upon them of a vital kind. They had been dazed and stunned by a succession of miracles, but had not been convinced. Allowing that great and wonderful cures had been performed, they were piously anxious that now some sign should be shown to them from heaven. You can understand the unctuousness with which they pronounced that sacred word. They would now change the field of proof: a token from heaven would be exactly after the temper of their pious and noble mind. They had observed the wonderful deeds which had been done, which were of a material and sensational kind, and which were adapted in a kind of broad manner to a certain low type of mind—but they desired a sign from heaven. The earth had been enough, and now they, wrapping their religious cloaks closely around them, desired a sign from heaven. Pious, sweet-souled, godly men, who were alive on the heavenly side of their nature, and who would accept any hint or claim that came from the sky, in infinite preference to the cures of the leprous, the dumb, the deaf, the blind, and the maimed.
This is a common and holy trick in all corrupt Churches. Give them what you may, they always want miracles of another kind. Their hearts are determined in unbelief, therefore do their minds affect to find fault with the evidence, or if not to find direct fault with it, to suggest supplementary demonstration of a totally different kind, and the corrupt Church is never so near its total damnation as when it affects its most unctuous piety and' wants a sign from heaven.
We want sermons of another kind, when the devil is twisting his fingers further and further round us. We admire the sermons that are delivered, but we would see a sermon from heaven. Such people grant the intellect but they affect to pine for the feeling. They do not deny the genius but they desire more spirituality. They do not doubt that good has been done in certain cases and to a certain class of minds, but they desire to see good of another kind done. This is a stock temptation of the old serpent. He says, "What you have to eat is all very good, but you ought to ask for something if not better, yet different. You cannot deny that notable miracles have been done, and that wonderful doctrine has been propounded. Admit all that: appear ever to be generous in your concessions, but ask for something different, play the pious trick." Old serpent, cunning—and yet his cunning ought now to be so transparent that we should mock it and reject it with bitter scorn.
How did Jesus Christ treat this pious inquiry, this high spiritualism of desire? The answer which he returned was itself a sign from heaven had they who received it but have understood its scope and its purport. It was a two edged sword—no other man in all human history could have made that reply. Observe its moral discernment. "O ye hypocrites." Unhappily we have only the cold ink to represent that word: we miss the atmosphere of its utterance, the emphasis which carried it straight into the guilty heart. "O ye hypocrites." Was not their pious speech about heaven, was not their question simple and direct, is there any one word in it that could give reasonable offence did they not belong to the spiritual section of the Church, the sighing, crying and sky-desiring section of the great family of human students and religious inquirers? "O ye hypocrites,"—that was a sign from heaven, to know them through their disguises, to accost the devil when he wore an angel's livery, to take him with mocking familiarity by the face and call him devil, notwithstanding his clothes—that was a sign from heaven.
In the case of Jesus Christ we must always judge the question by the answer which he returns. We do not say everything in words: the big lie is in the heart and not in the speech. Christ answers the question we want to ask, and not merely the inquiry which we actually put in words. Was not this penetration of character a sign from heaven? Was he ever much grander and nobler than when he faced the Pharisees and Sadducees and answered the question about heaven by a charge of personal and unmixed hypocrisy? Did this Man palter with his age, did this Man pay a high price for popularity? Was this the way to increase his fame and his comfort? Would it not have been better for him to have taken the Pharisees and Sadducees into some quiet and sacred place and shown them tricks from heaven? Mark the stern and invincible consistency of this Man: he will have no compromise with hypocrisy. He will not enter into partnership on forbidden terms and with forbidden people. This is the eternal miracle of truth: it pierces us, being sharper than any two-edged sword. This is the proof of its inspiration which the Bible always gives. Do not find its inspiration in its literary conscientiousness, in its mechanical consistency, in its artistic finish—find whether it is inspired or not by its moral penetration, moral omniscience, moral authority. In any right reading of this Book we stand in a holy place, cut off from everything else, made solemn by an unspeakable quietness, so quiet that a whisper is as thunder, so holy that a sigh may pollute the awful sanctity. So come to the question of the inspiration of Christ, and the inspiration of the Scriptures. Understand what the Bible is in its moral tone and moral claim, and as it warns off all generations of vipers and broods of serpents, and will have nothing to do with hypocrites and masked men and visored faces, learn that it is the very judgment of God amongst men, no more to be trifled with than is fire.
The moral discernment of Christ's answer justified the judicial tone by which he mocked the hypocritical inquirers. "When it is evening, ye say it will be fair weather, for the sky is red, and in the morning it will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and lowering." They were weather-wise, and nothing more, they mistook the sky for heaven, and the weather for a revelation. This is the perpetual mistake of men who have no inward and spiritual life. The temptation of today is that men should study the barometer. Such study has attained almost the dignity of a science—the barometer is now a Bible. Jesus Christ does not condemn this study of the weather, he says it makes a man foolish if he can only do so much and do no more. A man's knowledge may itself be an argument against him if it stops short of wisdom; if the light that is in a man be darkness, how great is that darkness! Jesus allows that they who questioned him could read the face of the sky, but he charges them with inability to discern the signs of the times.
What would you say about a man who knew all the letters of the alphabet, but could not put them into words? How would you estimate the claim of any man to wisdom who knew every word in the English language, and yet never could arrange those words into sentences? It looks as if a man were certainly learned when he knows instantly every letter of the alphabet—what more can any man know? He can repeat the alphabet backwards, forwards, onwards from any given letter—what more can be desired? Yet as there are those who know the letters but cannot shape them into words, so are there men who can count upon their fingers the great dogmas of Christianity but cannot run them into musical utterance, or mass them into grand practical argument, or translate them into noble and beneficent life. They are weather-wise, letter-wise, and nothing more. Herein is the great difficulty of all-expanding revelation, and all-broadening and ever-enlarging and enlightening ministries amongst men. We cannot get them to understand that it is one thing to know the letters of the alphabet and a totally different thing to run those letters into words and those words into ample and eloquent sentences.
Jesus allows a certain amount of knowledge on the part of his interrogators, and then he mocks them as being only learned in the weather, skilled in the clouds, but having no eye to read the writing of the heavens. When you look upon the clouds you do not look upon the sky, when you look upon the sky you do not see into heaven, when you read letters you do not form words, when you pick out individual words you do not construct tuneful and inspiring sentences. Stop not short in your education, but get away from the letter to the word, from the word to the sentence, from the sentence to the meaning, from the meaning to the music, from the music to the Musician—God.
Jesus Christ's answer was more than a mockery, it was also a revelation of the great fact that we are surrounded by legible and visible providences in human affairs. "Can ye not discern the signs of the times?" We should not need miracles if we could rightly read events—that seems to be the spiritual doctrine of Jesus Christ: he teaches us that we have a sign from heaven every day, and that we only need the seeing eye to behold its lustre and beauty. It is thus that the Son of God lays his claim upon our attention and confidence by the breadth and more nobleness of his teaching. Whilst we with blatant curiosity and affected piety are wanting new signs and new tokens from heaven, he says, "God is revealing himself in all the processes of the age. in all the developments of civilization: you should read these things more carefully, and you would not be pining and sighing for other proofs and demonstrations of the divine finger."
Facts are lamps by which we should see God. The rapid and startling combination of events surprising the crafty by new conjectures and appalling the strong by unreckoned energies, are signs of a power as beneficent as it is unlimited. Ye can discern the face of the sky, but can ye not discern the signs of the times? The little that we can do is mocked by the great which we cannot do—or a more cheering view is that the little we can do should be the stimulus to our attempts to still loftier and nobler discoveries. Can ye not discern the signs of the times? is a challenge and not a rebuke. Christianity always calls us to an interpretation of the events that make up the history of our own day. Daily journalism should be daily preaching: men who keep diaries should know that they are writing revelations from heaven. John Wesley was wont to say that he read the newspapers to see how God was governing the world. When journalism is honest without being pious, real and healthy without being sentimental, it will show us every day in its broad sheet a thousand signs from heaven.
Christianity therefore is a call to present day thinking. Venerable as it is with the colours of old time, it is yet modern in it? sympathy with human aspiration and its control over human motive and purpose. Not ancient history but modern activity comes within the claim and sovereignty of Christian faith. The Church must modernize itself, and for ever be the youngest as well as the oldest of human institutions.
Jesus Christ in closing, which he today practically does, the great series of miracles with which we have now become familiar, and in pointing to the signs of the times as God's revelations and tokens amongst us, takes his stand upon the broadest and most indestructible ground. This is a noble finish to the miracles. Again and again we shall see in further reading, a wonderful work here and there, but practically as to their massiveness and consecutiveness, the miracles are closed in this reading. Jesus Christ in retiring from a series of mighty works says, "If you want more miracles, more signs from heaven, look at events, study the history of your own time, from a religious standpoint survey the great march of civilization, the conflict of interests, the battle of truth against error, light against darkness, and he who reads the signs of the times aright will want no more miracles of the kind now closed, for his own life will be a wonder, every event upon earth will be an interposition from heaven."
This is healthy teaching, this is robust, masculine talk. The man who took this attitude was not afraid of his religion suffering from contact with material civilization and with public conflicts of all kinds. He was not only a God distant, infinite, impalpable and unnameable, but a Father in the household, watching all the family life, interposing in its succession of daily events and asserting himself with all the processes and developments of individual, social, and national life. This is a grand farewell. He is now about to be taken up from us into a loftier region of teaching, and before this intermediate ascension he says to us in broad noble speech, "Read the signs of the times, consider the events that are passing round about you, and you will have no further need for miracles and wonders of a kind to which you have now been long accustomed."
Let us learn then from Christ's answer that the events of the day are signs. The sign is always more than itself: the sign points to the thing signified. And let us also learn that these signs were meant to be studied. Jesus Christ would never refer us to unauthorized sources of thought and expression. God means his providences to be searched into, compared one with another, set in proper relation and succession. Have we the seeing eye? There is a shape in events; circumstances, occurrences, transactions are not unrelated stories, but they were meant to be put together to grow up into a holy temple unto the Lord, from the foundation to the loftiest pinnacle. Do not suppose that time is chaotic, look for the shape—when you cannot see the shape, look for the shadow. Your affliction means something, your disappointments have a purpose, your successes have a divine meaning, your opportunities are doors opened by divine fingers. Fool is he who thinks that every event is but a laden vehicle that turns out its contents every night, and passes on to bring other contents and to throw them into the same shapeless heap.
Read the signs of your own life. Throw the memory of the heart back to the time when you were young, little, poor, unknown, misunderstood, misjudged, assailed, nearly ruined, often sick, sometimes friendless. How doors opened, how friends came, how unexpected voices broke in upon the solitude of your despair, how little gleams and glints of light stirred in upon the darkness of your dejection—let the whole scene pass before your inner vision, and you will want no miracles of a sensational, external, and striking kind. You yourself will be the miracle, and unless a man feels himself to be a miracle, all written and historical miracles will be but so many stumbling-blocks to his faith. If we preach the miracles only along the line of merely intellectual enquiry, all nature will seem to be against us, great laws of continuity will assail our faith in every approach it makes towards the conclusion; but if we ourselves, being miracles, preach the consideration of Christ's wonderful works, they will seem to be part of himself, almost parts of ourselves, and we will know them by a masonry of the heart which has no words which can adequately express the subtlety of its penetration or the grasp of its power.
Though the written revelation has closed and no more ink can be added to God's Bible, living revelation is continual. Woe unto that man who takes his ink-horn and dips his pen, with the hope of adding anything to the Book to which God himself has added the grand Amen; but joy to that heart, a Sabbath every day, light upon light till the whole life burns with a sacred lustre, who sees God in Providence, reads him in daily events, hears his going in every click of the telegraph, sees him walking upon the waters, and watches him bringing chaos into order, tumult into peace and music.
A small event occurred afterward, a scene of blundering stupidity on the part of men who were nearest to him, and who ought to have heard the beating of his heart more clearly than others, but as we ourselves are making the same blunder every day, mistaking the letter for the spirit, the loaf for the doctrine, mixing up sacred and secular, and not able to distinguish the one from the other—we had better not rebuke in terms too severe their stupidity, lest we inflict fatal wounds upon our own sagacity.
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?Chapter 68
Almighty God, thou art light, and in thee is no darkness at all. May we walk in the light as thy children, as children of the day, called to thy glory and called to thy service, and capable of rendering thee continual praise. May we know the high meaning of our being, may none of its lower aspects tempt us downward, may every impulse of the soul be toward thyself, and our daily yearning be for the opening of the temple gate. We are at rest in the sanctuary, we are quiet in God's house; this is God's acre for the living, not for the dead—may we be here planted as living trees and as blooming flowers, made glad by every vernal glance and breeze of Heaven, and in the time to come do thou satisfy thyself with our fruits, and transplant us into the upper garden. Here may we see the inner beauty; in this place may we hear the inner music; whilst we tarry in our Father's house, may our Father's blessing fill to overflow our desirous hearts.
We have come with our weekly song; it is of mercy and not of judgment, for wherein there has been judgment it has been swallowed up of love—therefore shall our song be of love and mercy, pity and care, heavenly patience and almighty protection, and high above all other notes shall be heard our acclaim because of thy tender mercy. We have walked in and out safely because thine hand has been laid upon us. No lion has been in our way, nor any ravenous beast gone up thereon, because thou hast redeemed us from all fear. We have seen the cross, and that has made us glad; we have beheld the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, and in his sight all other sights have perished. After this we can look at nothing that is little: we are transfigured by its power, we are emancipated by its grace.
We have come with our weekly confession, but thou dost meet us with eternal forgiveness, because we come to the cross and speak the all-prevailing Name. Do thou come to us according to the necessity of each heart, and rule over us with the sweet sovereignty of love; draw us by the tender compulsion of grace, give our souls a heavenly setting, and by mighty yet tender stress may they be drawn upwards in every aspiration and every thought.
Thou hast surrounded us with temptation, thou has poured down thy moods upon the roof of our life, and thou hast caused many things harmful to us to test the strength and security of our foundation. Thou hast not spared the whirlwind, a great raging storm has sought out every weak place in our life-house—yet hast thou preserved us, thou hast given unto us deliverance, and in our mouth this day is a noble psalm of noble praise. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, it is because his compassions fail not that we are now in his house, and that our hearts are now in Heaven. This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.
We ask thee to comfort us when our distress is keenest, put into our hands the keys of gates for which there is no other opening. We ask thee to accompany us up the hill, that in thy society we may forget its weariness. We put our whole life into thine hand; we look back upon it and we have filled it with shame, but thou hast filled it with grace: we look forward to its years yet unborn, and we meet every one of them in the strength and love of Christ. We are well when Christ is with us, the soul is glad in the Saviour's keeping—there is no night in the soul in which he shines in all the tenderness of his veiled glory, nor is there any fear in the heart that is pervaded and penetrated by his holy love. This is our desire that so it may be—we thus speak to thee in words which do not express all our meaning, but thou hearest the sighing of the heart and thou knowest the desire for which there is no speech. Receive our utterances of praise for mercies given, for protection vouchsafed, for travelling mercies, for home comforts, for family delights, for commercial success, for trials well borne, and for afflictions sanctified.
Put around us all thy strength, and may we feel its gentle pressure, and rejoice that our security is not human but divine. Amen.
13. When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi (the ancient Leshem), he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
14. And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
15. He saith unto them, But (the decisive moment!) whom say ye that I am?
16. And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon (obedient hearer) Bar-jona (son of oppression): for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
18. And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell (Hades, or kingdom of death) shall not prevail against it.
19. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
20. Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.
21. From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes (a general conspiracy), and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
22. Then Peter took him (seized him from behind) and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
23. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence (a trap) unto me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
Christ's Personality Defined
Christian history takes a new departure from this point. We now come more closely than ever upon the spirit and purpose of Christ's life and work. We have passed through the porch, and now we are about to enter the inner sanctuary.
Jesus Christ here puts a direct question to his disciples. The time had come for putting it, and it was his place to propose the vital inquiry. He seems to say to his disciples, "You have seen much work, now tell me what is thought of the worker. The doctrine and the miracle ought to have had some effect upon the minds of the people; what is that effect? I have left the public very much to form their own opinion—to what conclusion concerning me have they come? I have treated you and the community in general as I treated John the Baptist when he sent two of his disciples to ask me if I was the Christ, or whether they were to look for another. You remember my reply: I said to them, 'Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see;' and then I pointed out to them the miracles which I had done, and the supreme, sublime miracle that the poor have the Gospel preached unto them; and I left the imprisoned herald to form his own opinion regarding my authority and my qualifications. It is in this way that I have treated you; I have delivered to you no lectures concerning my deity, divinity, personality; I have gone in and out amongst you, speaking the word and doing the mighty deed, and now the time has come when I may fitly ask you what is the result of it all—Who am I?"
The answer of the disciples, when the question related to the public, was prompt, and not wholly satisfactory. The public had come to respectful conclusions regarding Jesus Christ. "Some say thou art John the Baptist, some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets." There is no mention of Beelzebub in that report of the public impression. It was a respectful reply, because the public had formed a respectful opinion. It was also historical: John the Baptist, Elias, Jeremias—this man is connected with the historical and heroical past, he is a grand man: this is no common claim. Behind this fine porcelain there burns a marvellous fire; if we have to name him we will accord him an appellation that has about it the saintliness of devotion or the nobility of heroism. The opinion was conflicting yet unanimous. The people were not certain whether it was the Baptist or Elias or Jeremias or one of the prophets, but it was certainly some great man.
Jesus Christ having heard how he was regarded by the general public, brought the question nearer home. He had a subtle method of advancing upon the heart. Really his concern was not so much about the public impression as about the effect which had been produced upon the minds and hearts of those who had been nearest to him all the time. Said he, "But whom do ye say that I am?" The original is emphatic: "But ye—whom say ye that I am?" The Church should always have a more distinct opinion than the world. If there are two voices about Christ, the inner voice should be louder, clearer, nobler than the outer voice. There should be no difficulty whatever in distinguishing between the man who has been a long time intimate with Christ, and any man who is simply looking upon his history from an outside standpoint. Unction should be in the voice of the one, manifold music should be involved in the one utterance and should pronounce itself in many a happy and suggestive tone. Judgment begins at the house of God, not the judgment of denunciation alone, but the judgment of true-hearted criticism. If we are uncertain about Christ, what wonder that we make an uncertain impression upon the public mind? The fire at the centre of the earth is hotter than any other fire. So in the church of Christ there should be an all-solving, all-fusing ardour of conviction.
That conviction was sublimely represented in the answer given by Simon Peter. Instantly, with the suddenness of lightning, and yet with the graciousness of light, he said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." He was never so great a man before, nor has he ever been a greater man since he returned that infinite reply. Simon Peter was transfigured by his own answer; he was no longer a meanly-clad fisherman—the fire burned through his clothes: he was the tabernacle of the indwelling God. Never man spake like this man at that moment of his utterance. We know what it is to have a thought in us which transfigures the face and makes the countenance shine with unearthly lustre. The great speaker is always surprised by his own utterances, and suddenly there falls upon him an all-transfiguring fire from Heaven—the very flesh is a new flesh, and every pore of it an outlet for the inner light. Could we have seen Peter then, we should have seen him at his best—he has never been the same since. Some moments in life can never be repeated. There are some firsts which have no seconds, there are voices which seem to have no echoes—once for all their ineffable music rolls itself over the welcoming spaces, and it can never be repeated.
Yet in that very hour Simon Peter was not only transfigured, he was humbled. Beyond a certain line we cannot be allowed to go. Jesus Christ said to him, "Blessed art thou, Simon, son of Jona,"—why? Because of wit, genius, cleverness, superiority of mental energy? Nothing of the kind. But blessed art thou because this is not an answer of thine own suggestion, nor art thou repeating what any book has taught thee, nor art thou saying in thine own words what flesh and blood hath thought or conceived. This is nothing but the voice of the divine in the human: this is a revelation of God, this is an announcement from the skies—thou hast this treasure in earthen vessels, the excellency of the power is of God and not of thee. So lest the little trumpet should be proud of its own blast, Christ took it and held it up and said, "It was God's breath that startled thee into the energy of that grand music." Thus gently are we chided, rebuked in the midst of blessing, kept right in the very hour of our inspiration, and brought down from the mountain to be told that we should never have ascended so high but for the directing eye and the protecting hand of God.
Not only was Simon Peter transfigured by the indwelling presence, and humbled by the divinely granted and not humanly conceived revelation, but he was exalted as no man before him was ever lifted up. Humanly speaking, he surprised Christ into a new revelation. Jesus instantly handed Peter the keys. There is no difficulty in understanding the handing the keys to such a man in such a moment. Inspiration always carries the keys. No need of angry controversy or grammatical wordiness or critical inquiry into the exact meaning of the term, "the keys." This kind can only be understood by such minds as have almost realized the fulness and the elevation of inspiration itself. When you are inspired you have the keys. In your sublimest moods, when earth fades into a fleck hardly to be seen, and heaven crowds itself in noble fellowship upon your soul, the whole man is lifted up in an ecstasy divine. In that hour the church holds the keys. You do not hold the keys because of hereditary descent, or ecclesiastical relationship, or mechanical contrivance, or superior patronage—you hold the keys only so long as you realize the inspiration. And no man can take those keys from you; everywhere the inspired man keeps the keys—in merchandise, in statesmanship, in philosophy, in adventure, in religious thinking, in Christian civilization, you cannot keep down the inspired man. It is as if Christ had said: "Thou art filled with the Holy Ghost; this is oneness with God, this is pre-resurrection and pre-glorification—this is the very wisdom of heaven, and therefore I say unto thee, the keys are thine."
How Christ ennobled the occasion, and how Peter evoked the new revelation of Christ himself! Christ never spake in this tone before. We sometimes surprise ourselves into new conditions, so that we become in a degree new selves and are a surprise to our own consciousness. Jesus Christ never made any occasion little. He always saw the best of every man, and never did he withhold from any human soul the meed of commendation which seemed to be due. He was all grace. Said he, "Ye are the light of the world, ye are the salt of the earth, ye are a city set on a hill. Blessed art thou, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in Heaven." If we have fallen below the occasion, the fault is in us and not in the Master. He now waits to see the proofs of our inspiration, and then he will not withhold the keys. We are not now inspir. ed. We are clever, we are learned, we are respectable, we are orthodox, we are correct, we are negatively blameless; but Inspiration, Enthusiasm, Ecstasy—these angels we have succeeded in strangling
From this point a new and closer fellowship is set up between Jesus Christ and His disciples. They were now bound together by a new secret; one glimpse of the true light had been vouchsafed to the followers—the spiritual Christ had been revealed, and their nature was sanctified by a new inspiration; a great expectation was created in them, and that great expectation was confounded by temporary shame. Mark the compression of the twenty-first verse: "From that time began Jesus to show unto his disciples how that he must go unto Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day." The whole tragedy is crushed into that one inch of space. There is nothing more to be said. The cross is there, the bloody sweat, the mortal agony, the last gasp, the resurrection glory. He must go—not that he would go, but something more—he must go. The pressure of eternity was upon him, destiny beckoned him, supreme purposes gather themselves up into one grand appeal and claimed him.
He must suffer. We have regarded suffering as an accident, we have debased it into an affliction; the heroic aspects of suffering and sacrificial outcomes of endurance and discipline we have forgotten or allowed to fall into disesteem. Jesus Christ saw that to get to any crown worth wearing, he must go through suffering, he must be killed. He talked to himself in plain language: every man who is going to undertake any solemn business in life ought to set it down before himself in the tongue in which he was born, in the plainest terms which that tongue can supply. Do not shut your eyes and then run into anything that may happen to turn up; be master of the situation by forecasting it. Why should we be living a life of continual surprise as to trial and danger and affliction and pressure of various kinds? Why not put it all down in cold ink, in plain words, and look at it as a fact, then live it, syllable by syllable, till the last tone has died upon the air which has listened to the whole frightful tragedy?
Herein have we been blessed by the Almighty with sufficient knowledge of the future. We can tell that every one of us whose life is set in the right direction must go to Jerusalem, must suffer, and must be killed. Better for us to say all that to ourselves than be shutting our ears and closing our eyes and leaving the world to announce it in harsh and destructive tones. Commune with the tragedies that are about to befall you, charm from them their solemn secret; by long, faithful, honest communion with the suffering which must befall life, you may be enabled to say in the long run, when the great encounter transpires, "O death, where is thy sting?"
But Jesus not only spoke of his going to Jerusalem, of his suffering and his killing, but of his resurrection. We break off the story too soon, we have a long tale of complaint and reproach and pining and sadness, and too frequently is the sob too thick and strong in our throat to allow us to utter the word which would dissolve the cloud and make us men again. We talk too much of our discipline and suffering and slaughter, and say too little about the promised and inevitable resurrection. He who speaks the word "death" in the same sentence with the word "resurrection" will forget the overthrow in the exaltation.
Now we return to inquire how things stand with Peter, and we read this statement, "Then Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But Christ turned and said, Get thee behind me, Satan, for thou art an offence unto me," and Peter lost the keys—his binding and loosing power was taken from him in that instant! He who was the blessed one a short hour since was ordered behind like a dog. The church lives on its own good behaviour; you cannot live upon yesterday's inspiration today. Every morning brings its own dew; every morning must bring its own inspiration. To tell me that as a church you were inspired seven years ago, and therefore you are inspired today, is to speak irrationally if not wickedly. There is no inspiration seven years old or seven days old. God will depose the mightiest prince amongst us when that prince loses his inspiration. You cannot live upon the bread you ate twelve months ago—your prayer is, "Give us this day our daily bread." As with the body, so with the soul. The grace that ennobled your youth must be renewed day by day, or it will never mellow your old age.
So Peter fell. Christ names us just as swiftly as we do our deed. "Blessed art thou," and Peter seemed to stand in the sun. "Get thee behind me, Satan, thou art an offence unto me, for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." He had fallen back again to the human point; he who had touched the divine glory fell into the dust trodden by the feet of men, and he was no longer either blessed with a benediction or entrusted with an authority.
Christ himself never fell below the divine. In no instance can you lay your finger upon a single line which contains the announcement that for one moment the great life faltered. Every other life hesitated, had its spasms of virtue, its sunshiny hours, its unfaithful actions, but I cannot find a line in all the Book in which Jesus Christ falls below the purpose with which he began his life. In such a consistency there ought to be some force of logic.
How subtle was this temptation. It came from a friend, from the first friend, the senior disciple—surely there could be no poison in such a suggestion; it sprang from the heart, it was the utterance of tender compassion and protective sympathy. It came from a friend just honoured, from a man to whom the Lord had just granted the sublimest revelation. It was a generous thought—the intention was to spare suffering; it was the voice of nature. Peter could not endure that his Lord should be so treated. Yet such a temptation fell impotently upon Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ's fundamental principle was this: that whatever was not sacrificial was Satanic. A philosophy in a sentence, an inspiration in a breath! Written in his heart, inscribed in his mind, higher than Pilate's superscription engraven on his cross, was the profound philosophy
Whatever is not sacrificial is Satanic.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.Chapter 69
Almighty God, when the anthem is sung in Heaven, may we all be there, no wanderer lost in all the great wilderness—the old man and the young child, may we all be where age is no more infirmity, where we shall spend an eternal summer in the smile of thy love. We bless thee for all uplifting ministries, for voices that penetrate the soul, for lights that make the darkness flee away as if in pain, for all comforts that give rest and hope to those that are ill at ease. We thank thee that thou art mindful of us every day—thou hast a gospel for every morning, and thy stars are eloquent with new voices every night. There is no searching of thy understanding; thou art able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. Our little thought cannot reach to thy great sky—when we have climbed the upmost height thou dost lift the arch above us by the measure of the infinity, not to mock our strength, but to excite and inspire our prayer.
Thou hast set before us continually the cross of salvation because the cross of sacrifice. We see the uplifted Son of God, we behold him slain, we know that he was slain for our offences—we see his shame, his humiliation. They spat upon him, they took a reed and smote him in the face, they plaited a crown of thorns and crushed it into his temples. He was delivered for our offences; we see the nails, we see the spear-thrust, we see the falling blood, we hear the panting weakness, we see the languid eye, we hear the "It is finished" of expiring love. He was wounded for our transgressions. We tarry awhile and behold the descending angel and the stone rolled away and the dead One rising in all the triumph of his indestructible power. We see him ascending and a cloud receiving him out of our sight. We listen, and down through the shattered air there rolls the music of the infinite cry, "Worthy the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and honour and strength and blessing." May we take part in that great thunder, for he was wounded for our transgressions. Amen.
24. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will (This "will" is more than a mere auxiliary) come after me, let him deny (empty) himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
25. For whosoever will save his life (the same as soul in the next verse) shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
26. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
27. For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
28. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death (an idiomatic expression, death being represented as a goblet full of bitterness) till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
The Law of Christ-Following
How differently this passage reads when taken in connection with all that has gone before, from what it is often made to appear when taken out of its setting and made the basis of a discourse upon the value of the soul. Jesus Christ did not deliver these words as a sermon to the people, or as his abstract statement of the soul's worth. He was not speaking about immortality, he did not probably bring within his purview the term soul as it is often theologically and evangelically construed. He himself was the Man spoken of, his own soul was the soul which he set against the whole world's value. Peter had just said to him, when he had spoken of going to Jerusalem to suffer and to be killed, "This be far from thee, Lord." Peter could not bear that his Lord should expose himself voluntarily to all the indignity and suffering which Jesus Christ detailed. The reply of the Saviour was based on the suggestion of Peter: "Peter bids me turn aside and escape the destiny which I came to fulfil. Taking short and narrow views, Peter tells me in effect to save myself—but I came into the world expressly to do this very work and no other. This is my soul, my life, this is the very reason of my incarnation. What then should I be profited if I gained the whole world and insulted the very genius of my being and perverted the destiny which I was born to realize?"
Jesus Christ thus enters the sanctuary of great principles, and builds his life-house upon a rock. He looked to duty, and did not exercise his inventiveness in finding escapes from it. He kept his eyes steadily upon the beckoning Destiny, and whither it beckoned he went, and whosoever sought to hinder his advancement was Satan, and was ordered behind. To this end was Jesus born, for this purpose he came into the world, and knowing this he hardened his face that he might go unto Jerusalem. There is a beautiful artistic completeness about the statement well worthy of note. Jesus said unto his disciples how that he must GO—so we read in verse twenty-one—in the twenty fourth verse we read, "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will COME"—that is completeness. First, he himself must go, and in the second instance, if any man will come.
This is the setting of the divine grace, in all the solemn order of providence and in all the outgoing of the divine decree. Sovereignty and spontaneity, lordship and liberty, destiny and voluntary acceptance or rejection of the great challenge. There is no asking, "Shall we go—will it not be well to go—ought we not to consider whether we should go?" The first tone shatters the air, "I MUST;" the next falls upon the air like a pleading gospel, like a gracious appeal, "If any man will come." Would he then have gone, if no man had answered, "Lord, I will come?" Certainly. All this will come up again in the great audit: he is laying the basis and the foundation of judgment as well as the basis and foundation of redemption; the cross would be set up, the sorrow, the suffering would be endured if no answering heart called him Lord and Saviour. Sin must be encountered, a divine answer must be given to a Satanic challenge and a human apostasy, and that divine answer could be given only through the medium of the tragic cross. What an if is this—"If any will come"!—and yet in another mood he says, "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." Still, even in that bold declaration of sovereignty, it is drawing, not driving—alluring by the sweet compulsion of infinite love, and not scourging with iron rods or stinging scorpions.
Here is a great gospel invitation, the tender thing we call the love of God. Standing before us in figured image, it says, "If any man will come." And yet the artistic completeness does not terminate there. Jesus said how he must go unto Jerusalem and suffer and be killed. "If any man will come after me let him take up his cross." Here is the balance of the picture, this is the symmetry of the grand delineation—Jesus at the head yonder with a great cross crushing him, and the next man at an infinite distance with his lesser cross, and then the crowd, and then the great innumerable throng which no man can number, but every man with his own cross, every man going to be killed, but going to be killed with Christ, and therefore not to be killed at all!
The sublime reply of Jesus Christ to his generous but mistaken disciple contains a whole philosophy of life. Jesus Christ tells Peter that self-protection on narrow lines is self-destruction. He startled Peter by his paradox, "Whosoever shall save his life will lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it." A shrewd Peasant, a marvellous thing for a carpenter's Son, and nothing more, to have said! Why, it turns upside down all ordinary human thinking. It reads like a contradiction and a self-collision of statement. Read it again. "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." Can this be explained in words and defended by narrow logic? It can only be understood by our most sanctified feeling, and realized and endorsed by actual personal experience.
Jesus Christ teaches that inward peace must never be sacrificed to outward ease. A lie might help us oftentimes to momentary rest, a great black falsehood might be the softest pillow sometimes on which for the time being to rest an aching head. Of what account is it if there be great outward peace, whilst the heart is at war with itself, whilst there is a scorpion in the inner nature, stinging the conscience and inflicting mortal pain? Your plaudits cannot reach me with any measure of satisfaction if there be not an inward voice which attests that they are righteously bestowed—they fall upon me as foam flecks the rock it cannot penetrate. You might gather around your friend, pour upon him the billows of your approbation and applause, yet if his heart said to him, "You have no right to this," all those billows would chase one another to their destruction, and never enter the soul they were intended to bless. Contrariwise, you have also a profound truth—if there is really peace in your heart, any outside storm can have no effect upon you. Jesus Christ adds by suggestion that no motive is to be relied upon that is not drawn from a divine centre. Herein we fail so much—our motive has not reach enough. A man may be strong, and the stone which he may be attempting to remove out of his way be a real stumbling-block and ought to be removed, but if he have not leverage enough his strength is wasted in vain endeavour. What we want in life is more leverage, and that needful leverage can be realized only when it has a heavenly purchase. Every motive that is not profoundly religious expires ere it accomplishes any work that is worth doing. No heroism can sustain itself up to the point of conquest that is not inspired by an adequate motive. What is the adequate motive of human life? God's sovereignty, God's love, human stewardship, a profound and gracious sense of responsibility, and an appreciation of those opportunities for fulfilling that responsibility which constitutes the very glory and dignity of our human life. You are, it may be, operating with too small a motive, your weapons are unequal to the war—there are no weapons equal to this contest that are not provided by the Almighty Captain of the fight.
Having heard Jesus Christ speak so, I say this is abstractly splendid; if it be fanaticism it is of a royal type. I speak of Jesus Christ, therefore, in view of these answers, in no measured terms of applause; but, say I, it is the coward's trick; say I, this is very fine in the abstract, but you cannot live upon these principles. No doubt the principles are very noble, and there is about them a tender grace and something affectingly pathetic and pensive; no doubt the Man's words are of a very high quality, but, I fear, words only. Now, Jesus Christ preached the sermon himself, and immediately stepped down out of the pulpit to give them practical application in his own life. He lived his sermon. Whilst we called it abstract, bordering on the fanatical, very noble in theory but impracticable in execution, he went out and did it. He is the same in every verse; he never lowers his dignity, he never tampers with his purpose, he never makes the devil a bid that he may escape one pang of agony.
It is worth our while, therefore, as followers of Jesus Christ, to enquire somewhat into this philosophy of his. How did it come that Jesus Christ could treat his own death in this way? Read the passage in its wholeness and you will have the musical and effective answer. Your inquiry is about death, but Jesus Christ's speech was not about death only. You pause at an intermediate word; you do not take in the whole heroism of the case. The very first point of darkness arrests you, and beyond it you see no outlook. How did Jesus Christ treat the fact of his own death? He recognised it, he set it down as fact; it never occurred to him to view it as a mere possibility or a high probability, or something that could be coloured, mitigated, or affected in his interest. Solemnly, clearly, unflinchingly he recognised the fact that he must go and be killed, but beside grim Death he set bright Resurrection, for he added, "and be raised again the third day." "Weeping may endure for a night; joy cometh in the morning." Death is temporary, Resurrection is eternal. Our light affliction is but for a moment, whilst we look at things not seen. Stop at death only, and the strongest man's knees may well knock against each other in mortal terror. It is not easy to die: it cannot be pleasant to have the last interview, to put out a thin, wasted, trembling hand, and to say, in a hoarse whisper, "Good-bye." It cannot be one of life's luxuries. The Christian is called upon not to look at death only, but at resurrection; then in the "Farewell" is a subtle hint of reunion; in the tremulous "Good-bye" is an undertone that signifies "for a moment—at the other end of the valley we meet and part no more."
To resurrection he added Glory: "The Son of man shall come in the glory of his father with his angels." To glory he added kingdom: "Till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." Now, how does death look? A frightened coward! Now the foe falls back into proper perspective: a shadow fleeing away in the chasing light of Resurrection, Glory, Kingdom, and all heaven ringing with acclaim of welcome and "Well done!" Death should never be looked at alone. You will frighten yourself if you look at death only; death is what its surroundings are. Surround it with farewell, lamentation, upbreaking of purpose, failure—surround it with grim, ghastly, heart-distressing attendants, and death will have its sting and the grave its victory; but surround it with Resurrection, Glory, Kingdom, Reunion, Fellowship, a land in which there is no night, no pain, no sea, no sickness, no sin, no enemy, and the soul says, "I have a desire to encounter the foe, that by overcoming him in God's strength I may enter the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away."
Put death in all its right perspective, do not admit it to the front line at all: put resurrection, glory, kingdom, heaven, triumph, in the front, and then you will see death fleeing away like a shadow chased by shafts of light. Then cometh the time when death shall be swallowed up in victory, and a tone of triumph and of mockery, of gracious delight and keen taunt, shall be heard: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Spoiled are both of ye, and your short reign comes to an inglorious end.
Whilst all this applies to Jesus Christ, and was, in my opinion, in the first instance applied to himself, yet there is no reason why we should not accommodate it to our own life and to our own spiritual condition. What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his sight? How would you view that proposition? You shall have estates, lines of houses, mines of gold, and in exchange you must pay your sight. Will you conclude the bargain? What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his hearing? You shall have diamonds in multitudes that cannot be numbered, horses, chariots, men-servants and women-servants, and all the delights of the sons of men, but you shall pay your hearing in exchange for the bounty; you shall never hear the human voice again, its eloquence, its song, its friendly word, its kind salute—what say you? Does any man offer the price? Would it be too much to pay? What wonder, then, if Jesus Christ, reasoning à fortiori, should say, "if you will not pay your sight, if you will not pay your hearing, in exchange for what the world has and can give, what shall it profit a man if he gain it all, and pay for it his Soul? A soul paid for a month's comfort, eternity ruined at the price of a day's release from pain, Heaven paid in exchange for hell." These are the ironies of life!
Such things are done every day by men who lay claim to some measure of intelligence. Within us there is a power against which our best impulses and noblest purposes contend in vain—they go down before its savage strength in utter helplessness, and are crushed by its iron heel with all the delight of satisfied malevolence. A wondrous battlefield is the human heart! if a battle that may be called where the slaughter is all on one side and the prey falls into one hand. What is the remedy? Crucifixion we must have. Our opportunity lies in the grand choice between being crucified by others and crucifying ourselves. Jesus Christ said, "I lay down my life; no man taketh it from me," except in a very secondary and temporary sense. There was his peace. "I lay down my life for the sheep. I have power to lay it down and to take it again." Crucifixion there must be in human life, as it is now debased and corrupted. The question is whether the crucifixion shall come from the outside and thus be mere murder, or whether it shall come out of the will, being done by the man himself, and thus be a great sacrifice. Such is the election now open to us—Murder or Sacrifice—to be slain by the enemy, or slay ourselves in Christ's society and on Christ's own cross. Suffering you cannot escape—the question is whether you will suffer from the outside or whether you will suffer sympathetically with the Son of God, and, knowing the fellowship of his sufferings, afterwards enter into the power of his resurrection.
Matthew 16:19.—To have the keys, is the sign of administrative authority: to bind and to loose, are figures for the exercise of such authority. The Apostles expected to be rulers in an earthly kingdom, and to have their acts sanctioned and supported by an earthly king. They were assured of a higher dignity than this. Not that the will of God would change to agree with their will; but that their will would be brought to agree with his, and their agency be employed in teaching and governing.
Matthew 16:20.—The verbal declaration would now only promote popular excitement.
Matthew 16:22.—Peter supposed that his Lord was unduly discouraged, and elated by the commendation just received, he presumed to speak as if he were wiser; thinking the predictions of the Old Testament made the death of Christ impossible. He had been named a stone for building, he now became a stone of hindrance. What was appointed and approved of God, was different from what was expected and desired by men, and it was much better. Christ spoke first of his own sufferings, and then of those of his disciples. He would not call them to death, till he could bid them in this also follow him.