The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples,Chapter 86
Almighty God, we know thee by our love: our hearts go out after thee in a great search, and come back with all thy grace glowing the soul and making the life new. We do not know thee by the mind, we cannot lay hold of thee by the senses, thou dost come secretly into the heart and speak to our meekness and love and modesty and waiting patience. Thou hast revealed thyself unto us in Jesus Christ, Son of man, Son of God, to us God the Son, bringing every secret of thy love to bear upon the necessity of our life, and redeeming us not with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of his own heart. We do not understand it, yet do we know it well: it is made plain to us by the agony of our heart: we see thy wonders through our tears, we hear thee best in the time of the silence of the night, thou dost shine upon us when all other lights are withdrawn. We feel after God, the heart goes out after thee in mute necessity, and yet in assurance that thou canst and will be found. This we know: we have tested it, and thou hast made us living witnesses of thy presence in our heart and life.
We were as sheep going astray, but now we have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls; we had endeavoured to find for ourselves water in the wilderness, and behold we found none. We said we would smite the rocks and out of them would flow rivers of water; we smote the rocks and there was no answering stream. We have tried the world and found it a great emptiness, we have seized eagerly every offered cup and found in it nothing but death—but we have come to Christ: he is bread and water, he is the soul's one satisfaction, we rest in him, we find in him the centre of our security and the assurance of our peace as we find in him the peace that is everlasting and the completion of our broken nature. He is our Saviour, and we call him such: thy Son and yet not ashamed to call us brethren, and we have fellowship with his heart, union with the inner spirit of his tenderest love, and because of this sympathetic intercourse we are lifted up into a new nature and intrusted with an infinite liberty and joy.
Thou dost come to us in occasional hours, thou dost take us up into a mountain and transfigure us, thou dost even lift us above the mountain and hide us in the luminous clouds, and there we hear sweet voices, grand with the music of old time, tremulous with answers to the present necessity. Send us down again from high raptures to willing service, to patient endurance, to waiting upon the helpless and the sick and comforting those that are ill at ease.
We commend one another with all confidence to thy tender care. Some need thee more than others, or so they say, and feel it, because of the urgency of the immediate pain: yet we all need thee equally, did we but know the case as it really is: not one can breathe without thee, we lift our hand because of thine almightiness, and we sit down and rest because of thy peace. Yet where there is consciousness of immediate need, a great crying pain in the heart, that importunes the Heavens and would seize the kingdom by violence, let thine answer be such as shall give special comfort to special distress.
Enable us to live our few days with all the simplicity of faith, with all the trust of immortal hope, and with all the delight of men who are assured that the very hairs of their head are all numbered and the time of their life is kept in Heaven. Is there not an appointed time to men upon the earth? Can our grave be dug before the hour which is written in Heaven? Is not every man immortal until his work is done? Give us this confidence, then shall we not be startled by accidents, and that which is a tragedy to the vain and the unprepared, will become the commonplace in the infinite movement of thy beneficent providence. Yet thou dost send upon us events with suddenness that break us down. If the blow be sudden, let the grace be an equal surprise: where the shock is startling and distressful, let the healing follow immediately and be the greater miracle.
Thou knowest who are in sorrow and great pain and who are made cold by bereavement and poor by the withdrawal of the choice life in whose smile the lesser lives all lay. O comfort those that mourn, and make our sorrows the roots of our joys. Amen.
Completeness of Divine Teaching
"When Jesus had finished all these sayings." Why not before? Why not have broken off the eloquent discourse midway, so that its latter music might never have been heard by the ages—why not? Consider that question soberly and profoundly, and tell me, is there not an appointed time to man upon the earth, and can any great speech be interrupted until so much of it has been delivered as the ever watching and ever beneficent God deems to be enough? He punctuates our speeches: if it is better that they should be broken off at an intermediate stop, so be it: if it is better that they should go on to a full period and be sphered and rounded in logical and rhetorical completeness, so let it be. Do not live the fool's life and suppose that any man can kill you when he pleases. The very hairs of your head are all numbered: not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father. Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom, is a sweet and gracious promise, which has its detailed application to every honest man and every faithful worker.
Jesus Christ brings into his history this word finished more than once. In this instance he had finished the Sayings. When he offered his great priestly prayer, he said, "I have finished the work thou didst give me to do." When he bowed his sacred head upon the cross in the last intolerable agony, he said, "It is finished." Does he leave anything in an incomplete state? Has he left any star half-moulded, any planet without the last touch given to its infinite circumference? He works well. I am persuaded that he which hath begun a good work in you will continue it until the day of redemption and completion. If we had begun, we might never have finished, but he who began the work is pledged to complete it, and the top stone shall be brought on with shoutings of "Grace—grace" unto it. Build with such stones as you are able to lift: do your little masonry as faithfully, as lovingly as you can, but he that buildeth all things is God.
Here the office of the Teacher ceases, and here the office of the Priest is about to begin. Correctly and deeply interpreted, the Teacher was the Priest, and the life was the death; and the doctrine was the atonement as well as the death. But for the sake of convenience, we divide the functions into Prophet, Priest, and King. The Prophet has closed; the great solemn peroration, broad as thunder, has ceased; he has just said, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal." That was his last word, according to the history which is before us, and when he had spoken of life eternal, his lips closed. There was nothing more to be said of a doctrinal kind—the priestly function was to succeed the prophetical. What an air of repose there is about the statement. It reads like a great plan: there is nothing hurried, nothing tumultuous—the uproar is on the outside; within, and specially in the central Man, there is ineffable peace. He speaks as one who came to his work from the sanctuary of eternity: there is no flush upon his face that betokens surprise, the surprise was in others, to him life was a calm, grand revelation.
How appropriate the last speech: from an artistic point of view the completeness is simply marvellous. There could be nothing to say alter the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew. We often feel ourselves that after certain men have spoken for any other voice to attempt to make itself heard would be an anti-climax of an intolerable kind. We know when the wisest man of the assembly has spoken; he has reserved his judgment until other speeches have been made, and when he sits down, no other man could, with any regard to the fitness of things, presume to rise. What could have been said after the twenty-fifth chapter? The Son of man has come in his glory and all the holy angels with him, and he has sat upon the throne of his glory and conducted the arbitrament of the nations, and these have gone away to everlasting punishment and the righteous into life eternal. After that, the only possible eloquence is—the CROSS!
Let us hear his final words before the great tragedy. Said he, in Matthew 26:2, "Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified." He never made a more characteristic speech. Here you have the very heart of the man talking. Look at that word "betrayed," and find the whole soul and purpose of Christ. To be betrayed was the agony—to be crucified was nothing to the man who would take such a view of betrayal. It was the sin he looked at, not the butchery. That such truth could be met by such falsehood killed him. We look at the outward and vulgar aspect of things, we cry around the cross of wood as we see the sacred blood trickling down the beam. 'Tis childish. When we are older and wiser we will cry over the betrayal. It is one of the impossibilities of ordinary history: it would be a total, absolute, incredible impossiblity, if it did not take place in our own heart and in our own house day by day. That such purity, such truthfulness, such beneficence, should have made no deeper impression than this, killed the Son of God! The atonement was offered in Gethsemane, when he sweat, as it were, great drops of blood and said, "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." Then he redeemed the world. The rest was commonplace, the killing, the slaughter, the mean revenge, the triumph of hypocrisy and priestism.
All the great work in life is done in solitude, with the loved ones a few paces behind, with the dearest out of sight, with no one there but the soul and God. Win your battle there, and other fighting becomes quite easy, and if you seem to fail in the other fighting, it is only as a seed fails that dies in the earth to repeat itself in manifold productiveness and utility.
Jesus Christ always took the spiritual view of an action. He did not ask to be spared the nailing, he took meekly the spitting, for it went no deeper than the cheek—but to be betrayed was more than he could bear. To be smitten on the face, what was it but to endure for a moment the ruffianism of the basest men of his day?—but to be betrayed—that was the mortal agony, and if we took a right view of life, we should see it precisely as Jesus Christ did—not the robbery but the plot to rob, not the blow upon the face but the wound upon the heart, not the crime but the sin, would impress us most deeply and pain us most cruelly.
Jesus Christ will, in the judgment, take the spiritual view of every action. He is consistent with himself: he has not two standards or methods of judgment. What we would have done if we could will form our character at the last. We speak emptily and superficially about deeds and actions and conduct—we do not see the real deed. Not what my hand accomplishes, but what my heart would effect, is my character. Thank God for that. It may tell against us in this or that instance, but it may also tell for us in the supreme totalising and adjudication of life. God knows what it is in our heart to be, and what we can honestly say in our heart is what we really are. Not our outbursts of temper, not our occasional displays of lowness of disposition, but the supreme desire and passion of the heart will form God's basis of judgment. If we can say at the last, as many a poor misunderstood man can say now—but the church will not believe him—God is better and greater than the church—"Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee"—that love will burn up all the sin, and they shall come from the east and from the west and from the north and from the south, and from all quarters, sections, churches, and provinces of human geography and human thinking and human feeling, and the great surprise will be that Heaven is so vast.
"They consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety." Subtlety—that was their condemnation. Honest men know nothing about subtlety, honest men are fearless, honest men rely upon the instincts of the people, honest men never fear the instincts of a great nation. See how sin debases everything: it turns a grand magisterial function into a machine for the performance of little party tricks. Sin blights whatever it touches: if it looks at a flower, the flower dies: if it goes through a garden it leaves a wilderness behind it. It is a most damnable thing. See the Sanhedrim, the great council of the nation, that ought to be its pride and ornament and crown, and that ought to speak with a voice that would commend itself in every tone to the conscience and reason and inner heart of the people, conniving, arranging, temporising, trick-making—and that is the work of the fear which comes of conscious wrong. Fearlessness goes out by the front door, honesty speaks aloud in a plain mother tongue that every man can understand. Honesty may seem to be inconsistent here and there and again, but the inconsistency is apparent only and not real. Honesty can bear to be searched into, for all the parts belong to one another, and they come together and form a symmetrical and indissoluble completeness. Your trick is your condemnation, your subtlety is mere cleverness, it is not philosophy.
But they said, "Not on the feast day." That is an excellent resolution, not to take Jesus and kill him, and if the punctuation had been complete there, we would have said, "They have come to their better mind;" forgive them, they are going to abstain from their purposed slaughter, but instead of having a full stop after "day," we read, "lest there be an uproar among the people." A bad excuse, but any excuse will do for persons who are bent on villainy. We are quick at excuse-making, we have the genius of wriggling out of righteous positions and evading sacred duty. Our reasons often come afterwards, and our excuse is but a post hoc—it never would have occurred to us, if we had not found ourselves in danger of being ensnared and trapped and killed with weapons we had made for the slaughter of others. Our excuses may ruin us: our little pleas may become the sharp weapons that will penetrate our misspent life. One man thought he had an excuse which would make even the great man dumb; he said, "I knew thee, that thou wert an hard man, reaping where thou hadst not sown, and gathering where thou hadst not strawed, so I took thy talent, wrapped it in a napkin, hid it in the earth—there it is." And the great man said, "Thou knewest that I was a hard man? Thou knewest? Thou oughtest, therefore..." An unexpected logic, a turn in the argument which became intolerable as fire. No excuse can stand the examination of God.
What will Jesus Christ now do with the case so vividly and completely before him? He will turn away from the great feast of the Jews? No—he will keep the feast, though he must die. That is the Teacher the world wanted, that was the kind of heroism of a moral type which alone could act upon the world like salt, to save it from putridity. He will go to church, though he will be killed under its sacred roof; he will keep the great historic feast of Israel, though the price he must pay for admission is the price of his life. But in doing that, he will give the feast its highest meaning. Up to this time the feast of passover has been but an historical memorial in Israel, getting farther and farther away from the first incident, and losing, by mere lapse of time, much of its first freshness. But Jesus makes all things new. He goes to that last service, and lifts it up to its spiritual significance. May he come to every service of ours and make our homes and prayers and Scripture readings and expositions new. That is all we want—larger definition, more fearless application of what we do know; enlargement, not destruction, spiritual interpretation, not mechanical re-arrangement.
Not a word will Christ say against the feast: he will keep it, he will be a Jew, but in keeping the feast, he will give it its last deep and continual signification. Such a preacher do we always want in the church: not a man who will lay down the old hymn-book and say, "We have had enough of that," but will so sing the hymn as to make us feel we never heard it before. Not a man who will shut up the Bible and make a new one on his own account, but will so read the old Hebrew and Greek and the present English as to make our blood tingle as he reads. Not a man who will take down the grand evangelical system of teaching and doctrine, but will redeem its noblest terms from sectarian uses and lift up into a firmament what has been fastened upon a ceiling. We need no new doctrine, but we do need some new definitions and larger applications and nobler sympathies and more comprehensive charities.
In going to the feast and acting so, Jesus Christ showed the possibility of the irreligiousness of some religion. That is the great hindrance to Christian progress—unchristian Christianity, a Christian doctrine without a Christian practice. Who is a Christian? Christianity is a question of the spirit, the heart, the inner life—not a question of mere propositions and theologies and metaphysics and mechanical arrangements of an ecclesiastical kind. If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his, and if any man have the spirit of Christ, I care not in what language he may express himself—most uncouth and not at all orthodox from my standpoint—he is a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. Christianity is pureness, meekness, gentleness, sympathy with right, trust in God, charity, forgiveness—against such there is no valid accusation.
The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders, were religious after an irreligious kind. The light that was in them was darkness, therefore the darkness was great. They mumbled the right words, but they did not live the right life or develop the right spirit. If you are selfish, haughty, resentful, proud, so sensitive that no man can speak to you about the affairs which belong to your life without your taking immediate offence, are you a Christian? There is not one element of Christianity in you, though you could repeat every catechism and defend with infinite cleverness every proposition made by the corruptest church in Christendom. But if you are gentle, pure, kind, unselfish, noble, forgiving for Christ's sake and because he is in you, you are God's witnesses to the power of the cross. When the Psalmist prayed for the destruction of his enemies he was irreligiously religious. It was religion gone sour, the wine of piety turned into the vinegar of resentment—it showed what men would be even in their religiousness, when left to themselves. The highest justice is mercy, the completest righteousness is gentleness, meekness, trust in God.
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,Chapter 87
Almighty God, thine is a holy mountain, and the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. May we approach thee in a spirit of humility and great expectation, inspired by the hope which thou thyself hast justified, that if we come to thee in the right way, with the right prayer, thou wilt grant unto us gracious replies. We come by the way of the Cross, we come by the way of Calvary—we know no other road; it is strait, and yet it is broad: we renounce ourselves and accept the Saviour, we put away our own ability, which is utter weakness, and run with eager delight and thankfulness to the almighty strength of Christ.
We come with our. accustomed prayer and our accustomed song, yet is our experience new, for thy mercy is always surprising, and thy compassion a continual revelation. Enlarge our prayer, enlarge our praise, and receive, we humbly pray thee, in the name of the Mediator, what we now utter in thy hearing as the supreme desire of our hearts. Thou hast done great things for us, whereof we are glad, but not glad with sufficiency of joy, for verily our gladness would have purified us, and our very joy would have disputed all dominions but thine own. Yet we are glad of thy tender grace and loving patience and eternal training of our wayward souls—often to ourselves hopeless and only hopeful to thine infinite compassion.
Thou hast arranged our life, thou hast directed it according to thy wisdom: we are here and not there, because the bounds of our habitation are fixed. We are this and not that, because the Lord hath so said. The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, and he who fixed the sea in its basin hath also fixed the waters of our life in their small channels. We think we are free, and behold we are bound: we stretch out ourselves as if we had stature and height enough, in order to fill all things, and behold the firmament is still above us: it is the bound of its height, and beyond it we cannot move. Thou hast tethered us with invisible chains, thou hast fastened us down to centres, and given us the delusion of liberty, whilst we have been all the while the bondsmen of thy wisdom and love.
We bless thee for this mode of training us; thou dost lure us by wondrous love along the widening way of life, thou dost promise us that which immediately appeals to our senses, and lo, thou dost train the senses themselves to contemn the blessing, and look for something grander still. Train us, thou loving God; make of us what thou wilt—thy will alone is good, ours is broken and insufficient to meet the whole necessity—strong only in points, and strong only with violence and not with the serenity of complete power. Enable us therefore lovingly to fall into the movement of thy will, and to ask for no other composure or rest but to be at one with the purpose of God.
Thou dost make us old day by day, and subtly dost thou withdraw our strength from us, until we know that our weakness is complete. Thou dost not smite us always with the great blow of thy thunder, but thou takest away our days with invisible hands and with silent movement, and we know it not until the sum which is taken is larger than the sum that remains. Others die in their full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet, but whether in this way or in that, thou wilt surely withdraw us from the scene which we were not consulted about entering, and thou wilt work out thy purpose on the other side as thou hast done all along without word or will of ours. Oh that we might rest in thy goodness, that we might be taught by the very bitterness of our experience, that we might see how frail we are, and turn our very frailty into a sign or prayer for greater strength.
Today make us glad in thine house: fill every window with light, come in upon us by every opening, and make our whole heart glad with great joy and thrilling rapture, and while the fire burns may we speak with our lips. Let the day be made memorable because of the large baptism of the Holy Ghost: let all the people praise thee, O God, yea, let all the people praise thee; thou who dost open dumb mouths and unloose silent tongues, come to us and cause us who have been too long speechless and songless in this house, to utter our prayer and our praise with a new and glad strength.
We pray for our loved ones who are not with us. The number is incomplete, the vacancy is a lesson to our anxious hearts—do thou go after those who have left us for a while: with all Sabbatic comforts make them glad, on the high road, in the wilderness, on the sea—wheresoever they are, let the light of thy Heaven be a Sabbatic glory. We pray for the sick, the weary, the sad, the dying; for the whole side and aspect of humanity, viewing which our hearts sink within us in hopelessness and fear because of our entire weakness and inability to meet the urgent pain. Lord, gather us to thine heart, give us to feel the presence of the everlasting arms, the arms that can crush the universe, but will not hurt a little child. Amen.
No Waste In Love
In this incident we see Jesus Christ indebted to others. It seems to be a humble position: he is in another man's house, for he has no house of his own—at times he had not where to lay his head. The writers of his story are never ashamed to say so, they do not want any adventitious glory, they do not care to build up a grand exterior: though they claim great things for their Master, they never claimed a house for him: they always found him the guest of others. He receives too the ointment from the woman who poured it upon his head. He had no ointment of his own. If any such token of love or care was to be bestowed upon him, it must be not of his own finding, it must be the expression of other hearts, and at the expense of other hands.
The contrast between this scene and others which have passed before us is so vivid as to be startling. We have seen him in the narrative raising the dead, opening the eyes of the blind, quieting the storm on the sea, and now he is indebted to another man for his dinner, and to a kind and loving woman for bestowing upon him a token of personal love and regard. He touched the extreme poles—extremely poor, infinitely rich: weaker than a bruised reed, strong with the almightiness of God.
How singular the imagination which conceived such a life, how violent in its action, how utterly improbable in its conceptions: how irrational to suppose that the world would receive a story apparently on the very surface of it so self-contradictory and self-stultifying! Yet truth is stranger than fiction. All these rapid alternations and self-contradictions take place in every deep and great life. If you do not realise within you something answering to the same marvellous rapidity, violence, and collision, blame the narrowness of your own experience rather than doubt what may appear miraculous to a hope that was never a great flame and to a faith that was more than half mere reason and cold factual understanding.
How meekly he receives what is given to him. He realises his poverty. There is nothing of pretence about him: he never takes a thing as if it were not given. He stoops down to bless the giver, to name the donor, so to enlarge the gift and the giving that there can be no mistake about his own poverty in the matter. With no sleight of hand does he take the offerings that are presented: frankly, with all the honesty of a true love, he puts out his hand, receives what is offered, kisses it, places it in his heart, and writes the donor's name in heaven.
And yet consider what it was that he received. Let us look a little into what was actually given to him. What was it in this case? He sat at meat in the house of Simon the leper: he was eating his daily bread, partaking of friendly hospitality. What else was given to him? A box of spikenard, very precious, such as, probably, only the comparatively rich could hold in their possession. These were the things that were given. They were poor things, and he was the greater for accepting them in their meanness. Who ever gave him a thought? Who ever enriched him with an idea? Who ever startled him into gratitude by a revelation of truth which had not come within his own horizon? who ever pointed out to him, as the result of a more powerful telescope than his own, some planet in deeper plunges of the sky than he had ever penetrated? He takes your bread, your ointment, and shelters himself under the roof of our house: at that end he is one with us, just as human as we are: tired, he asks to sit down; thirsty, he says, "Give me to drink;" without food hour by hour, he is glad to take a meal at any man's table, though he be publican and sinner, and much murmured at and about by those who look upon outsides only. And yet, whilst he is guest, he is host: no man can claim any table that he sits at: he fills the place, he leaves more bread than he began with, the feast multiplies under his look. He blesses the house, and it is never poor any more. The last lingering ghost that hid itself in some out-of-the-way corner vanishes, and heaven's cloudless light fills the place as if it had become a chosen temple.
These are the things that prove him to my heart to be...
GOD. Again and again we have seen that he is no grammatical deity, dependent for his primacy and sovereignty upon some cunning adaptation of ancient verbs and irregular conjugations, but a regal God, a palpable deity, a friendly God—so near that I can touch him and speak to him, so far that my eye cannot carry its vision to the infinite distance. He is all things: he comes in and sits down to dinner like a common carpenter, his clothes very coarse and mean and much wayworn, and his look haggard, and his eyes dim with watching that nobody could keep up with. Then we call him Nazarene and peasant, Galilean and strange character, partially maniac, evidently gone out of his head, past the thin veil which separates genius from insanity, and we look and wonder and are filled with a piteous amazement that such a Man should run such a course of wildness. Whilst we are wondering, he gives us one look which we can never forget, he utters a word as familiar as our mother's name, but with such tonic force as makes it music, revelation, light!
So I find him indebted to others, and yet not indebted, for he always gives the very things which he was receiving. This is the way of the Lord: we will come to know presently, if we keep long companionship, and close heart-intercourse with him, that we ourselves are not our own. Simon the leper thought the bread he was giving belonged to himself. Not a crumb of it! Mary thought she had purchased the ointment or had otherwise secured the spikenard, so that she had a right of property in it. Only in an intermediate sense. The ointment was Christ's before it was hers—she only held it for him. She could not account for what she did. Inspiration has no explanation: it touches the soul and moves the hand like unsuspected presences, and we cannot tell how we did it: we only know that the deed was done. Oh, cold, cold hearts are they that can tell why they do things and set down their reasons in numerical order, and justify themselves upon affidavits, and before magisterial benches. Be mine the life whose reason is swallowed up in higher reason which I have come to know by the mysterious name of inspiration. See him there then, debtor yet no debtor, a receiver and yet a giver, receiving from the hand only, but never having the light that burned in him increased by a single ray from any spark that ever issued from another brain. Set down in your common day books all that was given to him: any coarse paper will do on which to enter the record, any clumsy pencil will do to write the vulgar words. The pencil will never be required to write thought, idea, suggestion, flash from heaven; revelation from unexpected and impenetrated sanctuaries. It is up there that he is Lord!
But when his disciples saw it they had indignation, and said, "To what purpose is this waste?" In John we learn that it was Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, that began the objection and inquired into this matter of what was called waste. Said he, "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?" The man who said that condemned himself. He knew the pence value of the ointment, and any man who knows the pence value of anything that takes place in the church is a bad man. There is no pence value to the higher life: you jumble unrelated languages. The very question is a condemnation: it was not the question of an economist, it was the inquiry of a thief. Do not believe in schedules and tables and comparative statistics in the church. Any man who gets up tables and comparative statistics in the church is either a bad man or a mistaken one: he is always a hinderer of true progress. There should be no comparative statistics in the church. What have we to do whether the pews are full or empty, or the treasury exhausted or overflowing? Nothing. We have to preach the word, declare the testimony, read the writing, decipher the inscription on the cross and on the sky, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear, and as to comparing this year with ten years ago, let those do so who live in dust, but not those who are here for a night and will be gone tomorrow like the morning dew. Iscariot cannot do anything in the church, but debase and injure it.
Jesus Christ was often misunderstood by others. When indeed was he ever understood? Now and then it seemed as if he was just going to be understood, and then his great heart rocked within him and went out after the understanding man as one might go after a friend long expected and at length come. Sometimes a stranger surprised him by great faith, and he instantly went over the boundary line separating Jew and Gentile, and took hold of him, and with all the pathos and unreserve of an ancient and indestructible masonry shook him by the hand and heart, and claimed him by right of affinity.
It must come to that in the last building of the church. We cannot be built upon words and phrases. In the last issue the church will be a church of affinity, sympathy, love, friendship, brotherhood, a commonwealth—men understanding men who never saw one another before, but by look and touch and tone and gesture feeling that brothers of a commonwealth have met.
A man is not necessarily a Christian because he is a disciple, nor is a man necessarily at one with Christ because his name is Judas Iscariot. A bad disposition misunderstands everything. Do not suppose that the bad disposition understands Christ alone; whatever it looks at it desecrates. When a bad man looks at a flower, he sends a chill to its little heart: when a Judas kisses your child, he blackens its soul. Do not go to the bad man for poetry, or for high and bright interpretation of life and nature. The bad man cannot give you what you seek for. Wherever he is, all the holy spirits vanish and leave him in the vacancy of solitude. And yet the bad man can use nice words: he talks about the poor. The poor—he would sell his mother's bones to enrich himself! The poor—he would tear the gas lamps from their sockets in the church and sell them, if he could do it secretly, if he could do it and not be found out! Yet he talks about the poor, makes a mouthful of the word, says it unctuously, as if he cared for the poor. He can care for nothing that is wise, beautiful, tender, and truly necessitous. The disease is vital, the disorder is fundamental: he is bad in the inner fibres, and every look he gives is a blasphemy. He comes into the church, and he says, looking at anything which he may call by the name of ornament, "Why was this waste made? Why was not this sold, and given to the poor, my clients?" He misunderstands all beauty, as if the beautiful were not a gift to the poor. Why, sometimes the poor see more in a picture than the rich can see. To put up a beautiful building of any kind in a town is to give something to the poor.
What are the poor? Mere eaters and drinkers, gormandisers, people gathered around a trough to eat and drink? Have they not eyes, imaginations, sensibilities, divinity of nature that can be touched by the appeals of beauty and music and heroism and nobleness? Simon the leper could give a dinner, but he who gives an idea gives a continual feast. He who shows a beautiful picture, and gets a man to look right into it and through it, is actually giving to the poor. We misunderstand the poor when we suppose that they can only eat and drink, and that to give to them means to give them something in their hands or something they can gnaw with their teeth. It is a base idea, it is a total misconception of the whole case, it must not have any place in Christ's church. Build the most beautiful churches you can and you sustain labour, you keep men at work in an honest way; and fill the places with the poor. Every picture may be a hint, every tint of beauty may thrill the soul with a new hope, and every sound of the organ may answer something already in the soul, but silent. Abolish all narrow views, and do not suppose that the poor are only so many machines for the consumption of food and drink. Better to learn in Christ's school than in Iscariot's.
You cannot have any great life without sentiment. Life is not all cold logic; the flowers are the lovelier for the dews that tremble upon them, and you look so much younger and nobler when the tears of real pity are in your eyes—you are not unmanned, you are more than manned. The bad spirit cannot understand lavish generosity, spiritual suggestiveness, or religious sentiment. Only the beautiful soul can understand the beautiful act. Jesus Christ understood the woman and told her what it meant, though she did not know it. We do not know the meaning of our best acts: I am so afraid that we yield ourselves to those wooden teachers who would always keep us just between two assignable points, who would put down all madness—whereas it is by madness, mistakenly so called, that the world gets on an inch farther on its slow course now and then.
Jesus now becomes the Giver. Making his voice heard amid the tumult, he tells the disciples what the woman has done. She gave the ointment, he gave the explanation, and in that explanation we have revelation. Our deeds mean more than we sometimes mean them to mean, says Christ. "This is done in view of my burial." That was a new idea; the woman did not intend to suggest death and burial when she came with that ointment. "Ah but," says Christ, "this is like a flower laid upon my dead breast, that is like a finger gently pressing my dead eyelids, this is like an odour of heaven rising from the grave I shall presently occupy." He gives our actions such great meanings—oh, such verge, margin, and amplitude of significance! he makes us ashamed of our very prayers because they are to him so much more than they are to us. He interprets them at the other end, and seems to stretch them across the sky, whereas we did but mutter them in helplessness and inarticulate necessity. When Christ makes so much of the deed, we wish we had made more of it ourselves, and made it worthier his love.
Jesus Christ thus befriended others. To receive graciously is to benefit the giver. There is a way of denying a gift that hurts the heart that suggested it. There is also a way of receiving a flower from a little child that makes the child long for next summer to come around in a great sudden hurry that it may gather all the flowers in the field for you. Jesus took the spikenard, with the infinite grace which is one of the charmful qualities of his nature, took it as if he had a claim upon it, and yet as if he had no claim at all but the claim of poverty and need. "The poor," said he, "I will give you opportunity enough for attending to the poor: the poor ye have always with you, me ye have not always." Seize the fleeting chance, do good to the man who is going next: he may start before you do the great deed. Have some eye to the reality of things, and where there is a man that you can only see today, for he will be gone tomorrow, do good to him, and let the ten thousand who are not going tomorrow wait for their natural opportunity.
Tender was the speech, and extorted from him by the woman's tenderness. "She," said he, "is right: she knows and yet does not know that I am going to be buried soon: she knows by a feeling, an instinct, a strange and anonymous impulse that something is going to happen. Thank God for those women-prophets amongst us, and men-prophets, who cannot tell what is going to take place, but know very well that there is something in the air, and that work along that apocalyptic line.
There is a good deal that is modern in this ancient instance. Many people care for the poor multitudinously, they care for a great nameless quantity called the poor, they often mention them over their smoking soup, they sometimes refer to them with most touching sympathy as they are gulping down their last champagne. They have a warm side for the poor, understanding by that term something immeasurable and far away. They would take the shadow into their own houses if there were less of it, but being so vast they let it alone. These people are great in epitaphs. I have sometimes ventured to say that if the dead could rise at night in darkness, and had to return to their several graves in the morning, they would never be able to get back again to their right places if they had nothing to guide them but their epitaphs. They would be so surprised at their own grandeur they would not dare to get in again. Men cannot live on epitaphs, and the poor are not much obliged to us for drinking their health in a bacchanalian toast. Better throw a bone without any flesh upon it to the hungriest dog that ever lived, than talk about all the hungry dogs and give them no bone. Church of the living God, you can be mighty amongst the poor: foiled for the moment in wordy argument, you can set up a plea for Christianity in the hearts of the poor that the poor can understand and apply.
The word waste was used in connection with this offering. "Why—to what purpose—was this waste?" The word that is rendered waste in the English tongue may be rendered perdition. At the last Christ said, concerning this same opposing and querulous Judas Iscariot, "I have lost none but the son of waste, the son of perdition. He accused the poor woman of having done a perditional act. A man can only speak on the level of his own nature: I have lost him: it was not the ointment that was wasted, but himself that was waste."
Ay, so it shall be in the judgment. Nothing shall be lost that can be kept, and what is lost shall be the son of perdition.
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests,Chapter 88
Almighty God, thou art always leading us onward to Gethsemane, happy we if thou wilt enable us to sing a hymn here and there on the road. This is thy purpose that we should take our sorrows as the beginning of our joys, and should look onward beyond the place of the shadow into the place of the shining of the eternal light. Our eye will sorrowfully rest upon the gloom, it will not lift itself hopefully and look onward to the light, and herein have we great and needless sorrow, for we remember not that the dawn is at hand, and that thou art preparing us for great visions of glory. Help us, in the spirit of our Master, to endure the cross, despising the shame, and looking onward all the while to the glory that shall be revealed. Show us that the walk is a short one to Gethsemane, there a night of praying and sweltering blood, by and by, and sharply, the cruel cross with its nails and spear, then a moment's burial, and away into immortality. May this lie before us as the open road of the soul, and believing these great and solemn truths may we gird up our loins and pursue the way thou hast marked for our feet. Grant unto us that whilst we are eating the bread of afflictions and the bitter Egyptian herbs, we may see our deliverer and hear the voice of emancipation.
Thou hast led us just in the old Biblical way: no new line have we written, though we have often tried to do so. Thou dost begin with us in the sunny garden where the four rivers are and all the beauteous flowers and luscious fruits: thou dost grant unto us limitation, and bind us to do this as well as not to do that, and we are templed and seduced and lured by visible and invisible powers, and drawn straight to disobedience and rebellion. We are cast out of the garden into the wilderness, the great, bleak, drear desert, and but for thy mercy we should die there: but thou dost appear for us and grant a great promise, even to the rebellious heart, and thou dost set before our blinded eyes, blinded because of great tears of sorrow, the rainbow of covenant and hope, and the great light of final restoration, being purified by the sacrificial blood. And onward thou dost lead us, over many a weary road, along many a lengthening mile, until we are compelled to sit down for very tiredness, and to beg water from the wayfarer, and yet all the while thou dost show to our eyes the whitening harvest, and give to us promise of plenitude of joy and deep and durable content. Lead on, thou gracious One: we will follow thee: Saviour of the world, cleanse us every day by thy blood, inspire us by thy Spirit, feed us with thy truth, and sustain us with thy grace.
We bless thee that we cannot die. If any man believeth in Christ, he shall never see death: it may pass by him, and change his relation to things, but he will never see it. This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith, so now we say, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" We have conquest and peace through him who was calm with the serenity of God.
We commend one another to thy gentle protection. Regard our affectionate solicitude for one another as a prayer unto thyself and plentifully answer it, thou whose heart is love. We commend unto thee all for whom we ought to pray, the royal, the great, the ruling, those who lead our sentiment and direct our national affairs, for all men in authority and influential positions—the Lord's blessing be not withheld from any one of them, may they be caught in the impartial rain of his grace, and rejoice because he hath visited his inheritance. Regard our loved ones from whom we are separated for the moment; be with them in the far away city, on the great sea, in the middle of the wilderness, amongst strange people and amongst languages they cannot speak: bring them back to us in thy due course, thou who dost keep the time of the world in the high Heavens. Take up our children into thine arms and bless them, thou Son of Mary, thou Son of every woman.
Oh let thy light and thy salvation go forth like angels over all the earth, drive away the darkness of sin, superstition, error: liberate from bondage all who are enclosed in the prison of fear, distress, or despair, or do thou come, thou mighty One, whose right it is to reign, and having cleansed us in the one fount opened for sin and for uncleanness, and regenerated us by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost, may the earth be recovered from her wandering, may the prodigal be brought home again and set among the brotherhood of the stars, to go out no more for ever. Amen.
You remember the meaning of the passover: it was a feast of the Jews, established for the purpose of keeping in perpetual remembrance the passing of the Red Sea, the coming out of Egypt, the final deliverance from Egyptian bondage. This festival was kept up every year by the Jews, it was therefore the feast of memorial, its one purpose was to keep continually in view the power and goodness of God, displayed to ancient Israel in delivering the people from Pharaoh and in causing them to pass over the Red Sea as on dry ground.
Jesus, as a Jew, would keep this feast. You reform institutions best oftentimes by remaining within them. It is true that on many occasions assaults may be delivered from the outside, but as a general rule the great and beneficent revolutions and reforms come from within the institutions themselves, and are unmarked by the violence of external onslaught. Jesus Christ said, early in his ministry, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil,"—that is, to bring up to the very highest point of meaning and to cause to pass away, because the divine idea has ripened and culminated and there is therefore nothing further for the institution to accomplish.
The disciples asked him where they should prepare the passover for him. It was a family feast: there was something national in the arrangements, and there was something domestic in the details. All the lambs were brought together, penned together, so that the Jews went down and chose their lambs from the great multitude, and took those lambs to the priest to be examined, that they might be declared to be fit for the sacrifice. Two of the disciples of Jesus Christ went onward to do this preliminary work. They went to the pens, they selected a lamb according to the law, they took their turn amongst the others in having the lamb submitted to the priest's scrutiny: in due time it was slain in the legal way and eviscerated, and what was designed for the altar was left behind, and the carcase was trussed with two skewers made of pomegranate wood and shaped like a cross, and then the lamb was taken home to be prepared for the evening meal.
The disciples, acting under the instructions of Jesus Christ, were dependent on another man for hospitality. Perhaps John, Mark, perhaps Joseph of Arimathsea—the name is not given. There was no reason to divulge it at the time, and it has now fallen into oblivion. But hospitality was willingly and graciously offered on the occasion of the passover, and those who were very poor, and offered such hospitality as was in their power, were rewarded by having the skin of the lamb left, and by having the vessels which were used at the little feast given to them. The passover was never to be celebrated by fewer than ten or by more than twenty at a time. Jesus went with the twelve—one of them was hardly in the count—it was just about enough. We shall get the revelation why certain numbers were chosen, by-and-by: we shall find that not the smallest thing in the whole economy was done by the law of haphazard or accident.
Look at the little plain table. There is on it the unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, calling up the afflictions of ancient Israel. On it there was also a dish of bitter herbs, reminding those who partook of them of the hard life which ancient Israel was doomed to live in Egypt, and there was upon it a dish of the conserve of fruits, and that might sweeten the feast a little, for surely in every lot there is one drop of sweetness. And there were three cups of wine, or one cup thrice filled; it was filled with red wine mingled with water, and it was presented to the head of the feast. He rose and uttered a thanksgiving to God for the fruit of the vine, and partook of it and passed the cup on to the other guests, and then the second cup came and they ate again and commented upon the meaning of the festival, and the third cup was filled, and it was after that, that as they were eating, Jesus took the bread and blessed it, and brake it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat: this is my body." And he took the cup and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink ye all of it, for this is my blood of the new covenant—rather than testament—which is shed for many for the remission of sins." According to an Eastern custom, the guests put their fingers into the vessels and took out what they required to eat, hence the expression: "He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish," he that is dipping it, he that has just dipped it, the hand that has just met mine, "the same shall betray me. It is the last time the hands shall meet on earth, they have joined together in this one act of fellowship; hence on there will be nothing but disseverance, separation of the widest kind, which no line can measure. He whose hand is with mine in the dish, or has just been with mine in the dish, the same shall betray me."
Such is a little history of this memorial festival, which I have rapidly sketched in order that we may the more vividly realise the scene, whilst I proceed to ask one question and to answer it, namely: Is this the same Jesus with whom we have accompanied in the reading of this gospel, these many months past? Can we identify him as the same—has he changed in any vital aspect or relation? We have never seen him under such a shadow before. Does he now, under the impending and terrific gloom, reveal the same features? Could little children go up to him now and say, "This is the Jesus that once blessed us?" Or is this some fancy portrait, lacking in every element of consistency with the living man who has travelled with us month by month in our Scriptural studies and made our hearts burn within us? To my mind it is the same Jesus, and I think the proof is more than ample. Here, for example, is the same absolute control over all circumstances, giving him the unspeakable serenity which has always appeared to us to be amongst the sublimest of his miracles. He is in no tumult: the great clock has struck his hour, but the striking has not paralysed him: he is, if possible, grander than ever, as there is about the sunset a royalty that we do not see in the rising sun, a richer pomp, a grander magnificence. In the rising sun there was power, promise, prophecy, the uplifting of one who said, "1 can do it, and will do it; I will fill the whole arch with light and make it glow with heat," but about the setting sun there is the calmness of one whose battle is won, a king dying amid pomp worthy the grandeur of his life.
So Jesus Christ calls himself the Master even now. When he instructed the disciples to go into the city to such a man, he told them to say unto the man, "The Master saith." Coming from his lips these words have great meaning; coming from his lips at such a time they seal him as one who was indestructibly conscious of sovereignty. He does not tremble or cower or beg. He commands even now, without a house to eat the passover in, dependent upon his friends for the last hospitality—he does not say, "I ask thee, I beg of thee, I entreat of thee," he says, "The Master saith, My time is at hand: I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples." Why, this is the very Jesus that looked up and saw Zacchæus, and said, "Make haste, Zacchæus, and come down, for today I must abide at thine house." He had no house, and yet he seemed to have all houses: he went in where he pleased, and made the place the greater by his presence. Poverty never lost anything by his entertainment, and the rich man always found his silver cup on the top of the sack when he opened it, when his wondrous Guest had gone, and the money was there, and nothing was lost. This is Christian experience the ages through. No man loses anything by Christ. When any man in a moment of haste and thoughtlessness says, "We have forsaken all and followed thee," he makes such a reply as causes the man to burn with shame that he was forgetful enough and ungrateful enough to mention the little so-called sacrifice he had made.
Here is a mastery of details. Everything was pointed out with the ease and clearness of a man who apparently had nothing else to do. Where the room was, how it was furnished, how everything was to be set in order—so that no two men ever left a master with more carefully or precisely worded instructions. He does not hang down his head that he may sob out his weakness, he does not speak incoherently because of the great pressure that was upon his life, he does not say, "Please spare me now: do what you will, and whatever you arrange, I will accept." He is still Master, and Lord still, and Great Sovereign yet, and the outgoing of his words is the utterance of a command, and in his look there is nothing to betray the consciousness of fear or the presence of weakness. So far we know we can identify him as the Man who was always the same, who never knew one shock of paralysis, who never hesitated as to the course he ought to pursue, and who, when his voice was lowest, showed that it was not the suppression which comes of weakness, but the lowering of his mighty thunder to accommodate the weakness of others.
Here also we have the same tender compassion. Again and again we have seen that compassion is the key-word of the Saviour's life. But for his pity the most of his miracles never would have been wrought. He never worked a miracle merely to exhibit his strength. He never hurled his almightiness upon the attention of society to overcome men by mere power. He wept, he sighed, he pitied, he compassionated with the most clement and tender spirit; and because he had compassion upon those who were needy and in pain or in great distress, he wrought miracles for the supply of their necessity, for the soothing of their pain, and for the abolition of their sorrow.
We have the same compassion exhibited in this closing instance of his fellowship with the disciples. Whom does he compassionate now? He compassionates Judas Iscariot. Think of that for one moment. Surely we read the words in a wrong tone if we read the twenty-fourth verse as a mere threatening—"Woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed: it had been good for that man if he had not been born." He does not turn upon Judas and look daggers at him: he does not utter these words in a tone of exasperation and resentment, then the occasion would have lost its sublimity. He interprets the great decrees: he stands fast in the tabernacle of God's eternity, and there might have been tears in his eyes when he said: "Woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed." Not, "I threaten you with woe," not, "I will one day repay you for this," not, "This is the day of your triumph, but my day will come, and then I will visit you with penal chastisement because of this betrayal." Such a tone would have been out of rhythm with the gospel of his love, and also with the thunder of his almightiness; it would have become a quarrel, a mere contention; he regarded it as a fulfilment of prophecy, the final expression of that which had been decreed from eternity. Woe will be the lot of him who does this, he will suffer for it when he sees one day what has been done: he will have no joy in this, he will sup sorrow out of a deep bowl and will drink the very dregs of the bitterness. Oh, I pity that man; it had been good for him that he had not been born.
Do not understand from these remarks that Judas was a good man. This does not alter the character of Judas himself: I am speaking of the divine interpretation of a fact, and the divine interpretation of the development of a certain man's character. Judas himself was a traitor, a thief, a man for whom no word of merely personal condemnation is bad enough, but we must not find the whole interpretation of the case herein: there is the divine view as well as the human view, and Jesus Christ pities the man who has fitted himself to carry out this purpose though it be old as the decrees of eternity: he pities the sinner in working out the sin, there is an aspect of every sinner which touches him, not with anger, but with real grief and pity; when he sees a man breaking his commandments right in two, and throwing the halves away from him with eager hand, he does not burn with anger only. Leave such anger to artificial deities. God is love, and he cries over the poor fool as he sees him doing the wrong. That does not excuse the man, that does not make the man one whit whiter or better, but I contend that there is an aspect even of sin which moves the divine pity as well as the divine anger, and I feel that the rhythm of this solemn music is kept up equally throughout, not by interposing notes of discord such as would follow in mere commination or threat of penalty. I would see in these words from Christ's point of view the sorrow which God always feels when he looks upon the traitor. We are all traitors; some have come to public infamy, but all should live in private shame. We may run away from Judas as to the mere accident of what he did, but he is our brother, born in our heart, and we are born in his, so far as the internal act of personal disobedience or rebellion or treachery is concerned.
We misrepresent the great Father when we think of him only as being angry with the sinner. Anger never suggests redemption; wherever God has followed the sinner with offers of redemption and mercy and forgiveness, it is because he has looked upon the sinner, not with an eye of anger only, but with an eye of pity and tenderness and compassion, so far as the sinner himself is concerned. He never looks with pity upon the sin, he never looks without pity on the sinner.
This is the same Jesus then: he is as compassionate as ever, he will love down to the end. Perhaps even on the rack itself he may say, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," and if so, he will, to his last breath, be as compassionate as he has been throughout his whole career. Let us wait and sec.
In the next place, here is the same use of incidents, and the same elevation of opportunities and occasions to their highest significance and purpose. "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it, for this is my blood of the new covenant." Have we seen this Jesus before? Unquestionably. Where? At Cana in Galilee. What was he doing there—was he keeping the feast of the passover? No—he was keeping a wedding feast, and at that wedding feast he turned the water into wine, and now he turns the wine into blood. He always moves to some higher generalisation, to some broader gift, to some grander display of beneficent power. Where have we seen this Jesus before? In the desert place. What was he doing there? Turning a few loaves into a feast for a great multitude. What is he doing now? Taking the bread lying before him and breaking it so that it should be in symbol his broken body, flesh given for the life of the world.
Have we seen this power displayed elsewhere? Indisputably. Where? Why in the very beginning. God took the dust of the earth and made of it a man. Christ took the water and made it into wine: he took the wine and made it into blood, he took the bread and made it into flesh—behold I make all things new! think not to say unto yourselves, We are the children of Abraham, for verily I say unto you, God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. Think not that you are reputed the succession, and that God is dependent upon you for the continuity of the Abrahamic line: God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
We do not see the deep meaning of things. We read the letter and leave it as the letter: we do not wait until it burns, and out of it there comes the voice of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Hence we have all manner of foolish controversies about the words "This is my body: this is my blood." Go back to the feast itself, sit down as members of that little band, and watch the action from its beginning, and tell me if the mystery be not imported into it by the priests, for it is not there by the action of Christ himself. When we come to what is now termed the Lord's Supper, we come to the passover of the Christian Church, we come to eat memorial bread and drink memorial wine. There is no magic about it, no priest's fingers manipulate the elements so as to change them or give them value. They are to you what you are to them. You do not see them, you eat as if not eating, drink as if not drinking, and if your heart be penitent and broken utterly, and there be no place in it or excuse for sin, and your whole soul goes out after the loving Christ for the benefits of his completed redemption and his continual intercession, you will be as if you had eaten his flesh and drunken the very blood of his heart. Do not try to explain these things in words, and do not fritter away your attention and fritter away your love, too, in trying to reconcile these with your reason. You cannot take the whole sum into your house, however broad your window or directly southerly your aspect: you can take in but a ray or two, the great sun does not feel as a prisoner within the lines of your architecture. So with these great sacred hallowed histories and suggestions; they take upon themselves the language of every country, the accent of every dialect, and they change themselves so as to throw broadening glory and ample hospitality according to the ever-enlarging civilisation of the world.
And is there some poor soul that is afraid of eating and drinking the bread and wine unworthily? You cannot do so if you eat and drink penitentially. If you turn the action into a revel, into a drunkard's feast, you eat and drink unworthily. It is not you that have to be worthy, it is the feast that has to be worthily approached, that is to say, approached with a due sense of its dignity, meaning, unction, and spiritual suggestion.
The passover was eaten, the mouthful of bitter herbs had been taken by Christ for the last time, the new Symbol had been set up, the law of the passover had been fulfilled in the institution of the symbolic feast. "And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives." Some few of the men sang the great solemn words of the ancient Hallelujah, then the others joined in saying the last words of the song, and ended with the exclamation, "Hallelujah." They fulfilled the law to the last letter, no jot or tittle of it was taken away. Poor singing it was, from an artistic point of view—grand singing from the heavenly standpoint. If you sing artistically only, the shame be yours and mine. Sometimes the hymn that is sobbed may be more acceptable than the hymn that is sung. Sometimes the prayer that is broken off in the middle is a mightier intercession than a gorgeous address or a splendid litany. God accepts the heart: he knows what we would do if we could, but "God abhors the sacrifice where not the heart is found."
They went out into the mount of Olives. So simple is the action when set down in cold words. There never was such a going out before—there never has been such a going out since! Let us be very quiet just now: the Master has gone out—He is on his way to Gethsemane!
Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.Chapter 89
Almighty God, thou who hast shown men great and sore trouble wilt revive them again, and their joy shall be greater than their sorrow as where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, so where death abounds, there shall be overflowing life, so much so, that the death shall not be spoken of but as a shadow upon an infinite firmament. Thou dost love us in Christ Jesus the Priest: he has bought us with his blood, and today we stand at his cross, full of gratitude, our lips eloquent with psalms of adoration and thankfulness, and our whole heart going out after thee in solemn and loving desire. Thou art the same, and thy years fail not: with our growing weakness thou art to us growingly strong, and if our eyes fail, thou dost increase the light according to their failure, so that in our soul there is the shining of everlasting day.
We know these things by our hearts, and can tell them only in feeble and unworthy words: there is no speech for thy goodness of the same pattern and scope whereby we can set it forth to our own hearing and our own vision. The dream is within, the vision is in the heart: we see with our love and hear with the inner ear, and when men ask us for words of publication, behold there is no speech upon our tongue: we can but burn within and feel thy speechless presence. Thou art good to us with both hands: the right hand of the Lord is full of power, his left hand is under us as a security and protection, thine eyes are lighted with love, the opening of thy mouth is as the dropping of honey upon our life, and all round about us, nearer than the living air, is thy presence, a great light, an eternal comfort, a sure and steadfast hope.
We have come to praise thee upon the harp of many strings, upon the organ, yea with trumpets and voices of the heart and soul. We would call upon all things that have breath to praise the Lord, we would demand, in addition to our solitary utterance of praise, the choral service of the universe, for thou hast done great things for us whereof we are glad. Thou dost come into the orchard of our life and do wonderful things. Thou dost sometimes blight the blossom and take away the little bud, so that the hope of the heart is chilled and slain. Sometimes thou dost come in the autumn, and with thine own hand pluck the ripe fruit and hide it in the Heavens. It is all thine, the tender little color, and the luscious fruit, the whole tree, root and branch is thine: it is not ours. So do we say when the blossom goes and the fruit is plucked, "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord." One dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet; another dieth in the bitterness of his soul and shall see pleasure no more. Thou dost cut down with mighty strength the life too frail for such power to strike it, and thou dost gather to thyself other lives like shocks of corn fully ripe. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord. Thou dost smite the mighty man in his eminence, thou dost cut down the cedar and call upon the fir tree to howl because the king of the forest is overthrown, and thou dost take away our father and mother, our wife and child, those that go back to our earliest years and make the foundations of our little history. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away blessed be the name of the Lord. He is the living One, and in him alone is immortality, and if thou dost take away, thou wilt well keep: none shall be able to pluck our loved ones out of the Father's hand. Comfort all that mourn herein, and let their mourning and weeping be but for one night, and their joy for all the next day-eternal.
Let thy blessing come upon us according to the pain of our life and the need which we feel growing into a deep poverty and crying to thee in feebleness. Let our weakness be a plea, let our blindness be the reason of our prayer, find in our necessity the occasion for the exercise of thy grace. Pity us wherein we are little and weak and poor, blind and not able to see afar off, and according to the need of our life order thou the multiplication of thy comfort. Give us an insight, we humbly pray thee, into the inner mysteries, the holy depths of divine truth. May we see the realities of things, may ours be no surface looking, but a penetration into the soul and meaning of things as they exist and relate to the infinite.
The Lord comfort us with choice consolation, the Lord inspire us with new thought and inflame us with new light: the Lord work in us godly discontent with all present attainments and opportunities—give us to cry for larger growth and nobler attainments and services.
Be with all for whom we ought to pray. Thou knowest why the seat is vacant, thou knowest where the father of the family is, or the eldest son, or the wanderer, or the prodigal that will not come to church. Thou knowest where the sinners congregate and the scorners sit. They are not here today, they do not wish to be here, they hate thy house, and they make use of thy name for unholy purposes—yet is thy mercy greater than their sin, thy grace overarches their life as does the great Heaven the little earth. O Lord, continue thy mercy, keep back thy judgments, let the prayers of thy people, like a great wind, keep back the storm-cloud of thine anger.
O Lord, hear us, O Lord, help us, O Lord, forgive us—wash us in the atoning blood, cleanse us by the power of thy Holy Spirit, and make our life richer, greater, grander in all holy aspiration and beneficent uses, day by day, till the sun set, and we pass on to other climes. Amen.
31. Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written (Zechariah 13:7), I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.
32. But after I am risen (unheeded words!) again, I will go before you into Galilee.
33. Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.
34. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.
35. Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee (so Thomas had said, John 11:16), yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.
36. Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane (oil press), and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.
37. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy (weighed down).
38. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
39. And he went a little farther (about a stone's cast), and fell on his face, and prayed, saying O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
40. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
41. Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing (ready and eager), but the flesh is weak.
42. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
43. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.
44. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.
45. Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
46. Rise, let us be going (not to flight but to danger): behold, be is at band that doth betray me.
The Culminating Sorrow
"Smitten,"—but Shepherd still. Strokes do not change character. The Shepherd was not deposed from his tender function; he was scourged, smitten, oppressed, and grievously tormented, but he was still a Shepherd. "Scattered abroad,"—but still the sheep of the flock. Understand that circumstances do not make or unmake you. You are not Christians because you are comfortable, you are not sheep of the flock because you are enfolded upon the high mountains and preserved from the ravening beast Sometimes the flock is scattered, sometimes the shepherd is smitten; but the shepherd is still the shepherd, the flock is still the flock, and the tender relation between the two is undisturbed and indestructible.
If I were a Christian only on my good behaviour, woe is me. If I belong to the flock only because of the day's calm, or the richness of the pasture, and because of the plentifulness of all I need, then is my Christianity no faith at all: it is a thing of circumstances, it is subject to climatic changes: any number of accidents may come down upon it and utterly alter its quality and its vital relations. I stand in Christ, I am redeemed with blood; the work is done; where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound. The church was just as much a church when she was in dens and in caves of the earth, destitute, tormented, afflicted, as when she roofed herself in and painted the roof with gay colours and lighted up the house with rare lights. Let us more and more understand that our election and standing are of God, and are not tossed about, varied and rendered uncertain, by the tumultuous accidents of time or by the sharp variations of a necessary and profitable discipline.
Jesus Christ stood always upon the written word. When the devil first tempted him, he answered, "It is written." Now when the devil has returned to him with the whole host of hell embattled against his trembling life, he begins to quote the Scriptures once more. What could we do without the writing? We need something to refer to, to stand upon, to quote—the positive and real word. When our mouth is filled with that, we feel as if we were equipped for battle. You must not have your Scriptures to extemporize when you need them suddenly: the Bible must be old, venerable, dwelling in your heart, ruling all your thinking, and must be quoted as a familiar expression, and not as a rare and curious saying with which the tongue is unacquainted, and to which it takes but unskilfully as to a tune not heard before. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly"—then, in the fight in the wilderness, you will be master, and in the night of smiting and scattering you will be able to speak of Resurrection and Reunion. Do not let us live in accidents, in transient circumstances and in variable and uncertain relations. We have a written word in which we may hide ourselves, we have a testimony cut up into sentences, so concise that a child can quote them, and written with so plain and keen a finger, that if they be quoted with the earnestness of the heart, the very tempter himself will reel under the shock of their quotation.
It is the Shepherd that is calm, though he is going to be "smitten." the rod is lifted up that will fall heavily upon him, and whilst he yet sees it uplifted in the air, he says to the flock, "But after I am risen again I will go before you into Galilee." This is not something unexpected or unforeseen: an ancient prophecy is about to be fulfilled, but after it is fulfilled in what we may term its harsher aspects and meanings, there will come the broad morning of Resurrection, and the infinite joy of renewed, continued, and endless communion.
I am afraid that some of us do but meanly live from day to day in this Christian life. In one sense that is right—that is, so far as the supply of immediate and peculiar necessity is concerned; but as to its depth, serenity, solidity, and irrevocableness, it is not something buttressed up every day by some new act of masonry: it lies deeper than the granite at the heart of all things. Be peaceful, be quiet, be filled with the peace of God. The climate changes, but the sun is the same, and is daily relighted by the same hand.
Peter answered and said unto him, "Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended." When men boast, such exaggeration is itself fall. If he had ended there, he would have ended as a fallen man. There is a time when even to speak is a vulgarity: there is a time when to contradict is black blasphemy: there are times when men ought at least to think in quietness, and to nurse their resolutions in the secrecy of unuttered prayer. Some virtues are vices—that is to say, their exaggeration becomes vicious. So there were men who prayed so much that they never prayed at all. They lost the spirit of prayer, they did not know its meaning; it became an exercise in speech, in the utterance of language and involved sentences oft repeated, until the exercise became purely mechanical, and so the prayerful words were prayerless speeches, and God neither heard nor answered.
So there is a fast that becomes feasting, and there is a steadfastness that becomes bravado. Let us take care lest we exaggerate our virtues into vices.
Jesus Christ performed what we may call in some sense the last of his miracles. It was in sweet and tender harmony with the grand music of the occasion. Said he, "Verily I say unto thee, Peter, that this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice." It was a mental miracle, an instance of that prescience of Christ which gave him his infinite superiority above all other teachers. We have seen how often he read the heart, and gave language to the unuttered thought, and brought the fire of shame to the cheek of men who supposed that their heart-thoughts were unread and unknown. Here Christ repeats the mental miracle of foretelling the mental condition of his senior disciple, and his moral lapse within a given period of time. How emphatic he makes it; there is music in the word "thrice," it is a rhetorical word; all happily balanced rhetorical sentences have in them three members: so there is to be here an emphasis of completeness, harmony, and undeniableness of reality. Thrice. The bad man "walks," "stands," "sits"—so it must ever be. Vice must take its little rhetorical curriculum, and finish its bad career according to the ancient and unchangeable rule. When Peter denied once, he might have recalled almost his breath, and denied that he had denied; but this boasting shall be humiliated, there shall be left no doubt or hesitancy on the part of Peter himself, that the denial was threefold, complete—in its way infinite.
So verily it has been in the history of the whole world. We are not left in doubt as to our sin. It is thrice-sin, fold on fold, and to deny it is to aggravate it. There are no once-done sins, "Thou shalt deny me thrice."
Peter said unto him, "Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee." It was honest ignorance: it was the worst kind of ignorance, the ignorance of one's own heart. Until we know what our heart really is, we can have no conception of what Christ proposes to do. Young, strong, prosperous, flourishing, with the colour of health upon our cheeks, and with the energy of health in our step and our mien, we cannot understand Christ's great speech to the heart. He must reduce us, humble us, grind us to powder, fill us with shame, drive us out to weep bitterly, and in that infinite rain of penitence he may say something to us that will lead us to God. Meanwhile he let the boastful man have the last word: to chide such ignorance was to waste energy and time. He allowed the disciples to have the last word. On other occasions he had the last word, but was this a time for chaffering, was this a season for the adjustment of relations, or for the assertion of supremacies? He allows the boaster to have the last word, thai; having his own word ringing in his ear, he may the more accurately and vividly remember it when the stroke falls and his tortuous lips utter the speech of denial.
"Then cometh Jesus with them into a place called Gethsemane," up to that time a local name. Just as the bread we have spoken about was ordinary, and suddenly became "body;" and the wine, the common red wine mixed with water, which suddenly under a touch and a look became "blood,"—so this place called Gethsemane can never hence on through all the ages change its name. It was an olive-yard, and in it was the olive press. The olive was the emblem of peace. Under that great solemn passover moon there bent down One in infinite agony who is our Olive, our Peace. Let us repeat these words to the soul, till they become tender by gracious familiarity, "He is our Peace: he hath made both one."
Then saith he unto them, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." That is the time for a man to answer the question whether he has a soul. That is not a question for intellectual debate or metaphysical inquiry, or for the sharp exchange of skilfully chosen words. When such debate goes on, the soul may well have retired into some secret place to cry over the degradation to which it has been subjected by the superficial inquiry. There is a time when no other words will express a man's consciousness and experience but... "my soul." Speak to a man in those educational hours and a great pain goes through him like a dart of fire. Then dare you ask him if man has a soul? There are bodily troubles and there are troubles of the heart, and are there not griefs which are peculiarly agonies of the soul? For every blood-drop we are implicated in the fierce endurance and trial. Let not those come into this sanctuary who have no great woes, but into it there will come an innumerable and reverent host of hearts that have known the bitterness of sorrow and the grief of death. Do not suppose that the soul's existence is to be proved by words. There will one day come into your life a pain which nothing but the soul could feel. Once felt it can never be forgotten. Wasted are those hours which we spend with men whose souls have never been tried. It is an exchange of words, a bantering of foolish sentences, one against the other. Let men meet who understand one another by the masonry of a common grief, and they will tell those who are outside how true it is, not only that man has a soul, but is one.
This is not a complaining voice. We have never heard the Master complain. He has stated his circumstances, he has told those who would follow him, without sufficiently counting the cost, that he had not where to lay his head, but he announced the circumstance with a cheerfulness of a divine content. Now he brings into his speech a tone we have never heard before. "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." Had he been doing wrong? No. Had he changed his course? No. Was he proposing to the world some new and forbidden line of liberty and delight? No. But the purpose of his own heart is ripening, and the divine decree is coming to the utterance of its last syllable, and the prophecy which has been the poetry and the light of the world is now about to pass into stern and solemn history, and in that transition this agony is felt.
Yet how human he is. "Tarry ye here," said he, "and watch with me." There are times when even a little child would be a defence for a strong man! There are hours of fear in which, could we but feel a child's little touch, we should be men again! There is a loneliness which the soul cannot survive; it must fall before it like a victim, though, being true in itself, and gracious in its purpose, it will rise again, and the great multitude shall gather around it to maintain with it and through it eternal fellowship.
He would have with him the very men who were going to flee away from him. He could only build with such materials laid to his hand. It was rotten material—sometimes we put out our hand to a yielding sod, thinking that perhaps it will not altogether give way till we get higher up through its uncertain help. These men were about to flee away from him, but he would just have them remain to give him such little comfort as was in the power of man to give under circumstances so tragic. You have been under the weight of long dark cold nights of loneliness, when a child's little silvery laugh would have made you heroic as an army of soldiers. In such nights you have felt the need and the value of a little human sympathy. Oh the touch of a friend's hand, the look of a loving eye, the utterance of a voice of trust and loyalty—these would have been right eloquent in certain periods of intolerable silence!
"He went a little further and fell on his face." There are weights that crush men down so! They do not then ask what is the proper attitude in prayer—you will be told, you will be put into it, there is a force that will attitudinize you without any study on your part, a mighty terror force that will dash you on your face! In such circumstances ask a man as to the legitimacy and utility of prayer! Such are the circumstances for the answering of such questions. In one case you will discover whether man has a soul, in the other case you will discover whether it is any good to pray. The question is answered from within; the reply does not come as the answer to the long, connected, and subtle argument, but within you breathes the suppliant that will not be silenced, in your soul is the intercessor that will pray. Do not discuss these questions about the soul and prayer in cold blood and in cold words. Leave such great inquiries to be answered by the tragedies of your personal experience.
"And he went a little further and fell on his face and prayed." This is the Lord's prayer! O my Father"—why that is the prayer he taught us long ago—just the same! What said he when we asked him, "Lord, teach us how to pray?" Said he, "Our Father." Now, when he has to pray himself, what says he? "O my Father." It is the same Jesus: He is the same yesterday, today, for ever. What, was God a Father still? When the Shepherd was being "smitten," when the flock was being "scattered," when the night was getting colder, deeper, darker, when in the wind was the breath of pursuing hell, was God still Father? By this standard let us try ourselves. If the great Ruler of the universe come to us in sunshine only, mighty, grand, majestic, royal, we have lived the wrong way: we should have lived up into tenderness and filial trust and gracious expectation, and the deep happy assurance that how dark soever be the clouds, they are the dust of our Father's feet.
Now he is shut up and alone with God. There are times when we must keep our dearest companions at a little distance. There are seasons when a man must be as if he were the only man in God's universe, and as though face-to-face speech with the Father could alone determine and overrule the crisis of agony. We pray a certain kind of prayer in the great congregation, a necessary and beautiful prayer, the expression of common praises and common wants. But there is another kind of prayer which none but God may hear. If it be heard by our mother even it will be spoiled. If we could know that the friendliest ear were overhearing it and catching the words before they got to God's ear, we should feel as if the life-stream had been diverted and had changed its course and gone on a wrong career.
What are your troubles—are they but transient aches and pains, small ailments for which the handiest doctor has an immediate remedy? Then you cannot follow into this great darkness of the passover-night. But is there bitterness of soul on any account whatsoever, real feeling in the innermost chambers, so to say, of the soul?—then the Lord's prayer is written here for our use according to the measure of our necessity. He will have the great harmony established; the great harmony of the universe takes all its utterance and expression from the divine will. The moment you have two wills in the universe, you break up its harmony: there can be in a harmonic universe but one will, and that is God's; our will must fall into it, become part of it, and must express it in such phrase and accent as our circumstances enable us to realise.
Jesus Christ will now dispense with miracles: he could have performed a miracle by prayer, but he will not. This shall not be done by spears and swords and angelic hosts: it shall be a question of will. So the miracles might well have ended there, and have all sunk in the majestic cry, "Thy will be done." There is no further prayer: that is the all-inclusive and all-culminating desire and petition. Yet the angels will come. We read elsewhere that an angel came and comforted him. Surely we have heard of that angel before—where did we hear the rustling of those wings before? In the wilderness! "Then the devil leaveth him, and behold, angels came and ministered unto him." And here in Gethsemane, a bleaker wilderness, a drearier desert, when his soul was afire with an infinite agony, and when out of his skin there dropped as it were great drops of blood, behold an angel came and strengthened him!
The universe is one: who could live in a universe that was nothing but what he could see? What, the universe no bigger than my sight, my power of vision and capacity of intaking and realization? It were a mockery, not a universe. When you tell me the air is full of angels and the great blue heaven is an infinite church, and that all things live, that God is over all, blessed for ever—you satisfy something that is in me, you answer an unuttered prayer!
"Here, then, we have two subjects of contemplation distinctly marked out for us. 1. The irreparable Past. 2. The available Future. The words of Christ are not like the words of other men: his sentences do not end with the occasion which called them forth; every sentence of Christ's is a deep principle of human life, and it is so with these sentences: 'Sleep on now'—that is a principle; 'Rise up, and let us be going'—that is another principle. The principle contained in 'Sleep on now' is this, that the past is irreparable, and after a certain moment waking will do no good. You may improve the future, the past is gone beyond recovery. As to all that is gone by, so far as the hope of altering it goes, you may sleep on and take your rest; there is no power in earth or heaven that can undo what has once been done."—(Robertson.) "Here seems to be a contradiction: he bids them rest, and yet by-and-by he says, 'Arise, let us go hence.' Some answer that he speaks by way of upbraiding and not of permitting; but Mark makes it plain, that after this speech, staying awhile, he stirred them up again, saying, 'Let us go hence.' For having bidden them sleep, he says, as after some interim granted, It sufficeth, and then the hour cometh, etc."—(Augustine.) "Even as water may be pierced with a weapon, and so likewise the fire and the air, yet they cannot be said to be wounded; so the body of Christ might be beaten, hanged up, and crucified, yet these passions in his body did lose the nature of passions, and the virtue of his body, without the sense of pain, received the violence of pain raging against him. The Lord's body indeed had been sensible of pain—if our body had been of the same nature to go upon the water, and not to make impression with our footsteps, and to go through doors that were shut. But seeing this nature is proper only to the Lord's body, why is the flesh conceived by the Holy Ghost judged by the nature of a common body? He had a body indeed to suffer, but he had no nature to grieve."—(Hilary.)
And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people.Chapter 90
Almighty God, grant us thy peace. The peace of God passeth all understanding. Great peace have they that love thy law. O that we had hearkened unto thy commandments, then had our peace flowed like a river, and our righteousness had been as the waves of the sea. Jesus, Lamb of God, Saviour of the world, grant us thy peace. Not as the world giveth dost thou give—say unto us, "Peace be unto you," and there shall be a great calm. Thou art the Prince of peace, the Son of peace, the Spirit of peace: may we know that thou art present in the soul by the peace that reigns there. Deliver us from all quietness that is deceitful, save us from lulling our souls into unholy slumber, and grant us thy peace, thine only, too deep to be measured, too calm to be expressed in words.
We have sinned against thee, and therein has our peace been destroyed. Truly we can say, there is no peace unto the wicked. We have felt the sting of conscience, the torment of remorse, the gloom of guilt and despair, but in the night of our sorrow and woe thou hast sent unto us angels of light with promises of pardon, and we have been led to the cross on which there died thine only-begotten Son, our Saviour and Priest and Surety. He is our Peace, he hath made both one. He is our Daysman, and he has laid his hand upon thee and upon us, and has made reconciliation. Great is the mystery of godliness; we cannot penetrate it with our understanding, we cannot receive it into our minds, but we can feel it in the heart, our love answers it, and the appeal of thy grace is replied to by the cry of our penitence.
We have come to worship God and to eat bread at his table. He establishes the feet of his saints, and watches the outgoings of them that are his. Behold we have in our hearts the sacred vow, upon our tongues is the holy word, and in our understanding is the conviction of thy presence and grace. We have done the things we ought not to have done, we have left undone the things that we ought to have done, and when we say there is no health in us, we feel how dead we are. We do not interrupt our confession with excuses and pleas; we fall down before thee, infirm, broken, shattered, without one word of self-defence. Thou knowest our frame, thou rememberest that we are dust, a wind that cometh for a little time and then passeth away. Thou wilt not thunder upon us with thy great power, thou wilt not magnify thine almightiness in our destruction, thou wilt rather lift up thine omnipotence in pledge of thy pity, and in the great power of God shall we find the tabernacle of his grace. In wrath remember mercy: remember how frail we are, remember that we are of yesterday and know nothing: see how few are our years, a handful at the most, and pity us and love us with continual compassion.
We bless thee for the year now closing around us as a church and people. Thou hast brought us to the day of temporary farewell: looking back upon all the past we bless thee with full heart, we thank thee for every revelation of thy truth, for all the light which has gleamed upon us from the upper places, and for all the comfort that has strengthened and encouraged our life. This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. Thou wilt conduct us to the end, thine hand of defence will never be withdrawn; when heart and flesh do fail, thou wilt be the strength of our heart and our portion for ever.
Pity all that has been amiss. Come with thine infinite forgiveness upon every guilty deed, and from the cross of thy Son our Saviour, absolve us from all sin. Wherein we have been good and have done good, to thy name alone be the praise.
Help us to resume our work with all thankfulness of energy and of hope, with invincible strength, with perfect consecration of mind and heart. Thus may we spend the years and prepare for the great eternity.
Comfort all that are sore of heart, speak a message of encouragement to those who need to be touched gently, or they will surely die. To the stranger within our gate speak home words that shall touch the heart and comfort the life with a new solace.
Pardon our sins, forgive our enemies, include within thy love our friends who are absent from us but who are longing to hasten back. Take up the lambs in thine arms, thou Shepherd of Israel; save with thine almightiness those who cannot save themselves, and when the discipline of life is perfected, may we begin the study and the service of immortality. Amen.
47. And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people.
48. Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.
49. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him.
50. And Jesus said unto him, Friend (comrade), wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.
51. And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear.
52. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
53. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels (the possible and the impossible)?
54. But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?
55. In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief (as against a robber with swords and clubs) with swords and staves for to take me? I sat (a sign of authority) daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me.
56. But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.
57. And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas (already committed to the policy of condemnation, John 11:49) the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.
58. But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest's palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end.
59. Now the chief priests and elders, and all the council, sought (a word which implies a continued process of seeking) false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;
60. But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses,
61. And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.
62. And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?
63. But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.
64. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power (the power), and coming in the clouds of heaven.
65. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy: what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have hard his blasphemy.
66. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.
67. Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands,
68. Saying, Prophecy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?
69. Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.
70. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest.
71. And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.
72. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man.
73. And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewayeth thee (the Galilean patois was probably stronger when he spoke under the influence of strong excitement).
74. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the (the Greek has no article) cock crew.
75. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.
The Arrest of Christ
Our concern is to know the spirit and conduct of Jesus in this transaction. How does he hold himself, by what spirit is he animated, how does he stand the stress of his infinite trial? We have little to do with the rabble gathered around him: we have only to do with the ruffian band in so far as it shows, in luminous contrast, the spirit and service of Jesus Christ. Observe what a grasp of principles Jesus Christ displayed in this culminating hour of his life. There are crises in which men are obliged to look about them for their principles. There are occasions upon which men of wit can answer surprising assault; there are other days and nights wherein a man has no wealth if he be not rich in doctrine, principle, and conviction. Riches of an earthly kind make themselves wings and flee away, but there are unsearchable riches that reveal themselves in glittering brightness when the soul would otherwise be in its poorest and most painful condition.
There was one impetuous man on the side of Christ, who stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck a servant of the high priest and smote off his ear. That was a little man: he mistook the range and scope of energy—he was the victim of the continual sophism which debases our thinking and causes our action to palpitate with vicious life, that it is necessary to do something. Jesus found a place in life for Simon. Jesus Christ showed what could be done by submission. Peter was anxious to meet force with force, a sophism so plausible that statesmen have been victimised by it, and men of every age have fallen down to worship that golden calf. It seems to be born in us, does the feeling that force must be met by force. There is a force of passiveness, there is an energy of silence, there is the magnificent retort of non-resistance, which puzzles men of common mind and ordinary heart, the very mystery of heroism to those who mistake noise for music and tumult for power.
The answer which Jesus Christ made upon the occasion showed that he was not too absorbed to neglect even the trifling incidents connected with the infinite tragedy. "Put up again thy sword into his place." That would have been a mere instruction, but following that instruction is the philosophy of civilization, the key of all definite and lasting progress, the very glory of human statesmanship and political and spiritual security. Who then could have expected another gospel? who could have said that even upon so trifling an occasion Christ would have interjected a revelation that would gleam in ever-growing brightness upon the mind of the ages? Yet that was exactly what he did. Not only did he give the instruction, "Put up again thy sword into his place," but he gave the reason for the instruction, namely, "For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." If he had never said anything in his life but that one word, he would have laid down a rule that the world would have grown up lo in all its education, disappointment, falling, and failure which it has experienced. We pass over the words lightly as we pass over all the grandest words ever spoken by the human tongue. We are so occupied with the anecdote, the moving panorama, the startling incident, that we overlook the philosophy of the grand, moral revelation, and hasten on, like impetuous Peter, to "see the end."
Jesus Christ did not attempt to snatch a transient victory. "Suppose you, Peter, could cut down all these men to the ground, it would amount to nothing: their progeny will come up: evil has an indestructible posterity, if it be encountered only by force. There must be another method of attacking this disease: it cannot be cut down with cold steel, it must be met by heavenly ministries, by spiritual and regenerative influences—put up again thy sword into his place." It could do nothing in the spiritual kingdom; when force meets force, death falls upon all who use it. There are triumphs, there are defeats, and there are failures that are successes: do not suppose that to smite down an enemy is to overcome the enmity. One wonders that men, reading these great sentences, so great yet so small—that they do not instantly un-cover in the presence of a Peasant who laid down in terms so luminous and definite the philosophy which underlies every beneficent and stable civilization.
Jesus Christ reminded Peter that all that was happening was in fulfilment of the Scriptures. "But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" Connect yourself with Destiny if you would be calm: do not live in the spluttering and dying anecdotes of the passing day. Consider that all things are elect of God, and move you in the current of His foreknowledge and forearrangement of things. You will be troubled, tossed about with every wind of doctrine, if you are living only from day to day, and upon the breath which is breathed from the human mouth. We must live in the eternity of God if we would be quiet amid all the storm and stress of life. There are some who resent the idea of a supreme will, or must boast of the predominance of Fate. This is a doctrine you cannot escape: your life is either gripped and driven by Fate, or must be ruled and blessed and sanctified by a Supreme Will.
But observe how evilly do they think and speak, who suppose that, having ignored the reigning will of God, they can rush into the cold and chilling sanctuary of impassable and inexorable Fate. Life, come upon me as thou wilt, I live in the will of the Father; whatever happens to me happens that the Scriptures must be fulfilled. The writing is old, and is rewritten every day—every life is a revelation, every breath is a miracle. Stand thou, O living man, in this sanctuary, and no fool shall be able to throw a stone into the depths of thy peace. Do not suppose that men come around you accidentally with swords and staves: they know not what they do: if your purpose is right, if your prayer is pure, if your face is set steadfastly, even with hardness, towards the Jerusalem of your destiny, you will be an ever-quiet and all-quieting presence in life.
The mistaken thinker is always caught in his own snare. Those who would escape from Will, fall into the arms of iron Fate, and those who decline to be guided by the Scriptures, which were fulfilled in the case of Christ, go straight over to another revelation which is incomplete without the written one. You cannot escape from prayer. You can run away from the altar of the church, red with blood glowing with fire, but you go to an altar of ice, and breathe out your soul's wish into a dead ear. Still you pray. You run away from the living paternal beneficent will, and try to quiet yourself with such narcotics as are handed to you by the iron hand of unpitying Fate.
One of the ablest minds that ever led the sceptical thinking of his time—I do not hesitate to say that I refer to Thomas Paine, a resolute and energetic thinker, and a man not without beneficence of purpose and patriotism of heart—has laid down the sophistical and monstrous proposition, that a revelation can only be made to one man, that no revelation has been made to us, therefore the revelation which Christ claimed to be fulfilled in his history was no revelation to after ages. How truly has every Achilles a vulnerable heel! A revelation granted only to one man? But there is a daily revelation, there is a lasting revelation of nature, providence, history, law, and when this lasting revelation, which comes to repeat its story every day, confirms the revelation that was given to minds and hearts in the ancient time, the revelation of today repeats in modern tones, and with present-day applications, all that was true in the immemorial time.
But the Scriptures must be fulfilled. Fulfilment of Scripture is the rewriting of Scripture. No promise can be realized without being written over again in its very realization. It is because human life takes up and repronounces divine words that the Bible keeps its hold upon human confidence and human love. Were it an old book, in the sense of speaking terms that have no immediate meaning, it would by mere lapse and effusion of time disable itself from holding supremacy over human thinking. It is because its words are old as eternity, yet new as the present morning, that the Bible is what it is and where it is.
So Jesus Christ rested in the fulfilment of Scripture. He laid his hand upon Destiny as ruled by a personal Will, and getting such hold of such principles, he was calm to apparent passionless-ness. Once indeed there was a ripple upon his placidity: said he, "Are ye come out as against a thief?" His soul was stung there. He knew that was the way thieves were taken, and to be thought a thief, to have all evil names fastened upon him, did seem to sting him into a question that might have in it one spark of sacred resentment. Or was he mocking the fools, was he showing them to what an unnecessary expenditure of strength and force they were going? Was he a man who would run away? Judas indeed said to those who were with him, "Hold him fast," probably not through any spirit of cruelty, but where a man lays hold upon the lightning he must hold it fast if he would keep it. Was there not some subtle tribute in this very exhortation addressed by Judas to the ruffian band? Did he not in this one exhortation seem to say, "I know his strength: I have seen his power: there is no limit to his resource. This is no ordinary culprit or criminal, if so we may describe him. Having touched him, surround him, draw a cordon round his life, or he will surely elude you?"
Sometimes men pay compliments unconsciously, as many men pray to a God they profess to ignore. Instinct may be relied upon more than argument: the inborn impulse of the heart will assert itself above all controversy and logic and intellectual creed. So the time will come when even Judas shall add a laurel to the chaplet which binds the temples of the Saviour, and therein shall the word be fulfilled, "His enemies will I clothe with shame, but upon himself shall the crown flourish." I know not but that when Judas himself will yet come to write the epitaph of Christ, we may find that grim monster of iniquity carving upon the marble rock—"INNOCENT BLOOD."
Then how grandly does Christ move between the possible and the impossible. When he said, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? I can, and yet I cannot. The possible is impossible." Have we not lived that strange experience? To the man who lives only in the letter the statement that the possible is the impossible will appear to be a contradiction in terms. It is the very key of life! you can do things which you cannot do: you cannot do things which you can do. Learn that lesson and life will have new aspects, and every day will have new experience. As a mere matter of "can," you could do the most outrageous and monstrous things this very day, and yet you could not do anything of the sort. You can burn your property, insult your friends, dismiss your servants, if it were a mere matter of literal ability, and yet you could not do one of these things! What keeps you back? Not force, not a sword—an invisible principle, a conviction, common sense, thought—all unknowable, unnamable, immeasurable qualities. As a mere matter of literal ability there is no length of absurdity to which you could not go, and yet you cannot take a single step in that direction—cannot, because of will, thought, sense of the fitness of things, because of the inspiration of righteousness, the dictation of justice and the regulation of common sense. So Jesus Christ says, "I could pray for angels—and yet I cannot: there is a pressure upon me which I will not resist: how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" How they tried to kill him: they wanted to be murderers without having the remorse of murder in their souls. That is what many men wish to be; if there were no hot blood in the case they would kill so quickly: it is the stain they cannot rub out, that they fear. Blood spouts out of the veins and splashes things that are a long way off; it is difficult to erase, it tells its burning story to scientific inquiry, falls in unlikely places, and comes up with speech of horrible eloquence to those who are in quest of the murderer.
How the Saviour was watched, malignly watched, always watched, watched with eyes theological, eyes political, eyes of envy, eyes of passion. No wonder. He opposed himself to the religion of his times—whoever does that, dies. He opposed himself to the orthodoxy, the respectability, and the self-security of his age, and whoever does that, dies!
When they urged him, and sought to drive him to extremities, we read these wonderful words, "But Jesus held his peace." That was probably the crowning miracle this side the cross. The great Speaker dumb, the Man of eloquence without a word upon his lips—silence was then truly golden. What made him so quiet? The struggle in Gethsemane. There was nothing more to be said: the Man who had passed through such experience was bound to be quiet. This is no arrangement or trick or expedient: it comes up out of the philosophy of the case. When we return from some grave-sides we cannot speak. When we leave some altars after all-night prayer, we cannot speak for the next three days. We seem to our friends to be distrait, absent, lost,—with a singular shining in the face, a new gentleness in the hand: it is not derangement, it is the fulfilment of the unwritten Scripture that sorrow conquered must be followed by eloquent silence. Have we not sat together when the favorite child has been taken out of the house to come back no more, and have spoken to one another never a word? Have we not sat down with our smitten friends seven days at a time and never said a syllable because their grief was very great?
The battle was won in Gethsemane: to have spoken after that would have been to degrade the grandeur of all that made the life of Christ sublime. Yet when he did speak, under the pressure of the High Priest, he spoke in a fitting tone. "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven." What could you do to a man who talked so? You cannot smite that man to his hurt: he is above your touch. You smite, and he does not feel the smiting: the soul in that hour is so much greater and grander than the body, that the body is but as a dead surface to the hand that ill uses it. Live in heaven, live in the actual possession of God's blessing, have your tabernacle and your pavilion in Eternity, and not a hair of your head shall perish. What could death be to a man who talked so? He had abolished death: they met, they caught one another in their terrific arms, and Death was left where the blood-sweat fell!
Now the hounds of hell have their turn. Who could find such reading as this—"Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him, and others smote him with the palms of their hands?"—six fists fell on him in a shower, and the villains said, "Who smote thee, thou Christ?" Then all spat together, and asked him to name them one by one. But they touched him not! All bad men do this selfsame thing. This is not an old villainy, it is a daily crime. We sit in church and shudder at the old Pharisees and Romans and Jews, and therein do we put the Scriptures eighteen hundred years away from us and make them a storybook, whereas we all live in this sixty-seventh verse.
Something did grieve Christ more than the enemy. Peter cut his heart in two. The enemy cannot hurt a man: if it had been an enemy that had done this, he could have borne it, but it was thou, a man mine equal, my acquaintance; we went to the house of God together, and together kept holy day. That is the sting! Peter said, "I know not what thou sayest." Then he added, "I do not know the man." In the third instance he began to curse and to swear, saying, "I know not the man." That surely is an ancient anecdote? so it is—yet it is not a day old: it was done this morning, we do it in some instances day by day. We are orthodox in conviction, we are heterodox in spirit and action. No enemy can hurt Christ as a friend can hurt him. The enemy does not get at his heart, the friend does. Peter is living now, he is living perhaps in the very most of us—not in this rough* and violent form, but in some mood more subtle yet not less deadly in its expression. O Searcher of hearts, have I denied the Saviour—have I made light of his name in order to avoid the mocking sneer of some enemy? Have I pledged his name in order to sanctify some bad transaction? Yet there was one thing about Peter that gives one hope: this was the weakness of violence, and therefore it will have suitable reaction. When he began to curse and to swear, I began to have hope of him. If he had coldly said, "I know not what thou sayest," he might never have been recovered. The violence of some cases is their hope. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, "I know not the man." The lips now foaming with such madness will presently pray. We say it is never so dark as before the dawn. Have hope of your worst ones: they may come back yet. Backsliders return. Do not give up those who have left you as if they would never, never be seen at home again. You tell me their last words were so violent and so severe. That is my very hope of them. It is very dark just now: let us go to the door—open it—and perhaps, there in the darkness, we shall find the violent one, "weeping bitterly."
At the end of this volume In the separate Reference Library Book, will be found a special examination of the character of Judas Iscariot. The line of thought which is there pursued may be novel to some readers.