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Why Christ Must Depart
I. The first thing to strike one is the way Jesus took to break the news. It was characteristic. His sayings and doings always came about in the most natural way. Even His profoundest statements of doctrine were invariably apropos of some often trivial circumstance happening in the day's round. So now He did not suddenly deliver Himself of the doctrine of the Ascension. It leaked out, as it were, in the ordinary course of things.
II. Notice His reasons for going away. Why did Jesus go away. (1) The first reason is one of His own stating. 'I go away to prepare a place for you.' And the very naming of this is a proof of Christ's considerateness. The burning question with every man who thought about his life in those days was Whither is this life leading? The present, alas! was dim and inscrutable enough, but the future was a fearful and unsolved mystery. So Christ put that right before He went away. But that does not exhaust the matter. Consider the alternative. If Christ had not gone away, what then? We should not either. (2) Another reason why He went away was to be very near. It seems a paradox, but He went away really in order to be near. The visible Incarnation must of necessity be brief. Only a small circle could enjoy His actual presence, but a kingdom like Christianity needed a risen Lord. (3) Another reason why He went away although this is also a paradox was that we might see Him better. When a friend is with us we do not really see him so well as when he is away. We only see points, details. Christ is the most gigantic figure of history. To take in His full proportions one must be both near and far away. The same is true of all greatness. (4) He went away that we might walk by faith. The strongest temptation to every man is to guide himself by what he can see, and feel, and handle. (5) But the great reason has yet to be mentioned. He went away that the Comforter might come. And yet Christ did not go away that the Spirit might take His place. Christ is with us Himself, He is with us and yet He is not with us, that is, He is with us by His Spirit. The Spirit does not reveal the Spirit. He speaks not of Himself, He reveals Christ.
III. Finally, if all this was expedient for us, this strange relation of Jesus to His people ought to have a startling influence upon our life. These three great practical effects at least are obvious. (1) Christ ought to be as near to us as if He were still here. (2) Then consider what an incentive to honest faithfulness this is. Christ was sure of us: He felt the world was safe in our hands. He was away, but we would be Christs to it; the Light of the world was gone, but He would light a thousand lights, and leave each of us as one to illuminate one corner of its gloom. (3) lastly, He has only gone for a little while. So we wait till He come again we wait till it is expedient for Him to come back.
Henry Drummond, The Ideal Life, p. 61.
The Expediency of Christ's Departure
The Master was gone; a cloud had received Him out of their sight. We might quite have expected that the disciples would have returned with hearts overwhelmed with sorrow. But no. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, and in the fifty-second verse, we read that 'They returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple, praising and blessing God'. This was a magnificent triumph of faith. They had just seen the Master enter the cloud, but they believed that, beyond that cloud, that ascending body was greeted by ten thousand times ten thousand angels, and conducted up to the very central Throne of the Universe. And further, they had this assurance, that this same Jesus was soon to come back again. I think you will be able to admire this triumph of faith on the part of the disciples all the more when you realise how difficult it is for ourselves to believe that it is expedient for us that Jesus Christ should have gone away. We sometimes imagine what a glorious thing it would have been to have had the continued bodily presence of our Lord here on earth! We can imagine, if we would allow imagination to run riot, not only what a joy, but also what a power in our work the continued presence of Christ would be! And yet we can see that it would never have done.
I. We can see, that Jesus Christ being truly man, as far as His humanity was concerned, could only inhabit one certain place; and therefore it would have been necessary, if we wanted to have communion with Him, to travel to His residence; if He had been in Jerusalem or upon the Mount of Olives, to have flocked thither. By His ascension into heaven Jesus Christ has terminated the carnal and visible, and he has established the spiritual and the true.
II. It is expedient for us because it lifts our thoughts up above earth and earthly things. If Christ is risen, then we, too, must rise and set our affections upon the things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Lay hold of this great truth, that whereas the Incarnation shows you that Jesus Christ cares if or all earthly things, yet at the same time the Ascension lifts you up into a higher and purer life. You must see that Christ comes by His Incarnation to bless and sanctify our earthly life, but He wants to unite us to His Father above that we may be living in communion with our God in heaven.
E. A. Stuart, The Communion of the Holy Ghost and other Sermons, vol. x. p. 33.
References. XVI. 7. H. Alford, Easter-tide Sermons, p. 92. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 406. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 674, and vol. xxviii. No. 1662. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 50. W. F. Shaw, Sermon Sketches for the Christian Year, p. 63. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. i. p. 242. T. Whitelaw, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 228. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 162. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ, p. 325. Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 345. H. P. Liddon, University Sermons, p. 288. Archbishop Plunket, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 24. W. H. Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 130. J. C. Hare, The Mission of the Comforter, p. 1. C. O. Eld ridge, Preacher's Magazine, vol. iv. p. 223. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 82. H. E. Manning, Sin and its Consequences, p. 3. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. i. p. 94. A. M. Fairbairn, Christian World Pulpit, 'vol. lxi. p. 330. John Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, p. 138. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 348; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 500. XVI. 7, 8. W. H. Green, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 564. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 266. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 89. XVI. 7-9. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 392.
The Holy Spirit Reproving the World
'When He is come, He will reprove.' When He, that is, who is the Spirit of Truth is come, He will reprove or convict. That He who is to reprove is the Spirit of Truth, and that He is to reprove by conviction, suggests at once that it is of no mere arbitrary exercise of authority of which I desire to speak, and of no mere blind obedience, but rather of attention to reasonable reproof, and of the need of corrective discipline.
I. If I am right in my inference, there is at the present time in the world both a too great unwillingness to be corrected, and also a too great unwillingness to correct. This is perhaps partly due to the impatience which is a natural result of the hurrying age in which we live. The rise of the great commercial world in the present century has spread a spirit of competition over us all. It is indeed a new and marvellous manifestation of the secret forces which an Almighty Father has prepared to promote the brotherhood of man, but, like all other forces in the hand of man, it may be used injuriously. A desire for quick results, and rapid exchange, leads us naturally to impatience under correction, and tempts us to give up too quickly some of those higher treasures, the excellence of which time and experience would show. We cut down the vine and plant another instead of pruning it Another and wider-reaching cause of our dislike of reproof or corrective discipline will be found in the prominence of pleasure.
II. God in Christ, by the power of the Divine nature, wrought out in His manhood all that was necessary to reconcile God to man; and God in Christ, through the life-giving Humanity, is working out in man's nature all that is necessary to reconcile man to God. Thus the satisfaction and the justice and holiness of God is a reality; but in both we pass beyond the limits of mere human reasoning, and must be content to acknowledge with the Apostle, 'O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!'
In part our difficulties in recent years have arisen from the attempt to retain the old words of the Christian faith, but to explain them by a rationalistic meaning. We must remember that the Christian faith implies not only an object of belief but an act of believing; and both are a gift from God. In part also we have brought difficulties upon ourselves by not considering the whole counsel of God as He has made it known to us, but by choosing what appears to be a simple and easier way. Thus the doctrine of the Atonement has been considered apart from the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Church, and so the effect of God's redeeming love upon man, and of man's share in his reconciliation with God, have been unduly forgotten, till at last that one mysterious act which made man's reconciliation possible is regarded as derogatory of man's greatness and possible perfection.
III. 'Though He were yet a Son, learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.' Nay more, 'I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me'.
If we are to be conformed to His likeness, there must be self-mastery, self-denial, and the spirit of self-sacrificing love. Of the nine fruits of the Spirit, the first and the last are ἀγάπη and ἐγκράτεια . The world has become entangled by the abundance of the good things which it possesses. The work that we ask of you in your day is to go forth to show men by your words and by your example wherein man's truer happiness lies to show men, as well as teach men that it is more blessed to give than to possess that selfishness is the ruin of self; that the full happiness of each is to be found in the happiness of all; that 'if one member is suffering, all in their measure must suffer with it'; that mankind is a brotherhood: nay more, that mankind is intended to be one body, even the Body of Christ, and every one of us members in particular.
Bishop Edward King, The Love and Wisdom of God, p. 83.
The Moral Witness of the Church
Concerning righteousness it is to that great word that we pass on today. The office of the Holy Spirit was to convict the world concerning righteousness. No doubt some historical significance attaches to the phrase. Jesus Christ had come to a nation which had had distinct thoughts about righteousness, which had aimed at righteousness, which had found it in the sphere of law and ceremonial; and He had told the Jew that his righteousness was a dead thing because it lacked heart and impulse and motive and sincerity. The Pharisees, we must constantly remind ourselves, were the religious and respectable element in the nation, its orthodox teachers, its chosen representatives of piety and devotion. And Jesus called them 'whited sepulchres'; 'God knoweth your hearts,' He cried in that flame of indignation which the sight of the Pharisees seemed always to quicken in Him; and solemnly He warned His own disciples that unless their righteousness exceeded the righteousness which they saw about them they would never enter the Kingdom of God. The Pharisee had failed, had drawn upon himself the fiery rebuke of Christ, because he had a false ideal of righteousness from the first. Why was he righteous? Why did he aim at righteousness? Partly, it may be, from blind obedience to a law about which he had never thought in a large, human way, but still more out of regard for appearances. Like many church-people and church-goers today, he cared for a certain reputation. He fasted, he prayed, he gave alms that he might be seen of men. He was contented with the shows and shams and unrealities of things. He lived for the world's opinion, and apart from the world's opinion righteousness would have had no charm, no meaning, no fascination for him.
I. And Jesus stands there, first in the shadow of the cross and then in the glory of the Risen and Ascended Life, to tell us that righteousness is wholly independent of the opinion of the world, that it has a Divine beauty and eternal vitality of its own, that righteousness, in a word, is life.
II. When we lift our eyes and watch Him go to the Father and see Him no more, and yet know in our hearts that He is still here when we think of what once a human life has been in power and loveliness, set like a star for our feet to follow, though we cross the world to reach it can we wonder if He calls us to something more than compromise and mediocrity? Like the world, we shall be convicted concerning righteousness if we have nothing better than the world's thoughts and desires. Righteousness in the Gospel is compared with salt and fire; and salt stings and fire burns you cannot hope to be always pleasant and popular if you mean to be a follower of Christ The great prophets of Israel, who dreamed of Christ but knew Him not, were, I should imagine, the most unpopular men who ever lived. They had no smooth and easy path in their antagonism to the world; and yet it was they who kept alive and handed on to us the torch of faith. And it is such today that we greatly need among us men and women who can be strong and independent; who can show moral vitality and enthusiasm and imagination; who can bring to the service of Church and State principle and high-mindedness; who will not let their life, their one chance of living, be lost in 'eddies of purposeless dust,' or drift, aimless and meaningless, along the stream of time.
III. And this righteousness, whether we think of it or not, is here in our midst, once and for all, a great and shining ideal, since He passed our way with His pitiful eyes and radiant face. We cannot escape it; we cannot deny it It is here, for our undying inspiration or our perennial rebuke. It is here, 'a glory like one pearl; No larger, though the goal of all the Saints'. This is what a Man has been; this is how a Man has lived and died. And when we set it in contrast with the standards of the world we see the greatness of the moral claim it makes upon us. Righteousness, we shall do well to remember, is in the Greek only another word for justice. Who can question in our social life the need of justice justice, that rare, that half-forgotten virtue? Are we just to those from whom we differ in matters of politics or religion? are we just, above all, to the poor by whom we live and to whom we owe so great an obligation? The clothes you wear they were woven and made by the hands of the poor. The church in which you worship it was the poor that laid its deep foundations and reared its pinnacles. The bread you eat was sown and gathered and harvested and kneaded by the poor. The books and newspapers that you read were printed by the poor. When you go your journeys, it is the nerve and skill and patience of the poor that speed you to your work that drive the express train against the north wind all night, or keep the ship's helm steady in the darkness and the storm. We owe them, therefore, in simple justice, a great debt And I do not see how we can hope to arrive at a really happy and stable social order until justice takes the place of so-called charity in our normal attitude to those who do so much for our happiness and our life.
IV. But more, righteousness means also truth truthfulness, honour, integrity, sincerity in speech and action. It means that reality of life and thought which enables a man to win the confidence of others, which enables him to pierce through the shows of the world and see things as they are.
V. And in the claim of righteousness I hear also at the present day the call to a greater simplicity of life. In an age of pleasure and luxury, when the growing demands for ease and comfort leave but too little room for the high adventures of faith and heroism, the Church is set as a witness to something divinely simple, austre, disciplined, unworldly the Church, and especially its clergy, and above all its Bishops. 'Be ye not conformed to this world,' was the challenge of St. Paul; are we not conformed to the world if our daily life our dress, and food, and occupations, and habits of living show no traces of the cross, are in practically no respect different from those of men and women who never make our tremendous profession; if the self-discipline and self-devotion which distinguished the old Puritans of our history on the one side and the Tractarians on the other pass like a cloud, and leave no mark in us, their degenerate successors?
The Church is the lamp of righteousness that is to shine in the dimness of the world. It is the forge of heroism, the home of Saints, the storehouse of high aspiration and of serious resolve. It is something remote, consecrated, set apart. It bears the oriflamme of a Christ Whose watchwords are those of simplicity and truth, of liberty and justice. He has gone to the Father, and we see Him no more; yet He lives still, and it is in the grace and power of His victorious life that we find, each one of us, the secret of our own righteousness.
S. A. Alexander, The Guardian, 18th March, 1910.
Conviction of Sin
God, when He made man, made man a spirit, but He gave to man a body, a glorious body, to be the obedient servant of his spirit, so that he might work out the Divine will in this material world. But man, preferring the lower to the higher nature, allowed the servant to become the master, and the animal sensibilities to lord it over and to stamp down the Divine in his nature. Alas! again and again we meet with men who say, 'Wherein have we offended?' and therefore the first thing which God has to do is to convince man of sin. Now He seems to me to try and do this by three forces.
I. There is, first of all, the force of conscience. But, alas! powerful as is the force of conscience, it was not enough to convict men of sin. (1) Because conscience speaks in a still, small voice. Amid the din and glitter of the world, with all the multitudinous voices of our fellow-men constantly dinning in our ears, the voice of conscience is sometimes unheard. (2) And then, conscience, unless it is regarded, grows weaker and weaker. You want another power than the power of conscience, you want a power that you cannot play with, a power that you cannot change, that you cannot alter, that you cannot drug, you want some power outside yourself.
II. Therefore God makes use of a second power to convict men the power of His law. In the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and in the twentieth verse, the Apostle says, 'By the law is the knowledge of sin'. But the law is not sufficient, powerful as is this force, to convict men of sin. (1) Because the law appeals to fear. The law would make men avoid sin not because of its hatefulness in itself, but because of the pains and penalties which this sin will bring. (2) And then, also, by its very nature the law deals with outward acts; it does not deal with the heart.
III. We need a third force. 'When He' the Spirit of truth 'is come, He will convince the world of Sin'. How does the Holy Spirit convict of sin? (1) It lifts up Christ. But that is not all. Not even the perfect life of Jesus shown you by the Holy Spirit will convict you of sin. (2) The Holy Spirit goes further; the Holy Spirit shows you the Father's love, shows you Christ upon the cross; it bids you remember that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. There is no other power which will convince a man of sin.
E. A. Stuart, The One Mediator and other Sermons, vol. xi. p. 137.
References. XVI. 8. F. W. Macdonald, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 120. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ, p. 342. E. Bayley, Sermons on the Work and Person of the Holy Spirit, p. 25. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, A Mission of the Spirit, p. 37. XVI. 8, 9. J. C. Hare, The Mission of the Comforter, p. 31. E. Bayley, Sermons on the Work and Person of the Holy Spirit, p. 273. W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, pp. 13, 21. XVI. 8-10. Ibid. p. 207. J. C. Hare, The Mission of the Comforter, p. 73. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 414. XVI. 8-11. F. Harper, Preacher's Magazine, vol. iv. p. 225. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1708. J. C. Hare, The Mission of the Comforter, pp. 110, 138. W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 197. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 319.
All the words, institutions, and judgments of God are levelled against sin, either that it may not be committed, or that it may be abolished.
References. XVI. 9-11. H. Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, p. 98. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 99.
The Divine Teacher and His Message
There seems from one point of view something almost infinitely sad about these words of our Lord. You know that they are among His last words, spoken either in the upper room, or, more probably, on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. His ministry in the world was over. He had withdrawn from it to the inner circle of His own. And He had not been talking long to them before it became perfectly clear that they were bewildered by His words. Pained and puzzled, partly incredulous, partly uncomprehending. And He had to stop, to keep the burden of His message on His own heart. He could not communicate Himself to them as He had desired to do. When He spoke they did not listen, or they listened without taking in. And the Master had to keep back what He had intended to impart 'I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now'.
I. Consider what led up to this saying of our Lord? Significantly enough, the verse comes between the two sections of the chapter which deal with the Holy Spirit. And that had partly puzzled them. What did they want, if I may put their feelings in this way, what did they want with the Comforter?
Who could ever be to them what their Master had been? Why should He go away, when they had learned to love Him, and had left all for His sake, and had learned to lean upon Him? He had been their sun and shield, and what should they do when He was gone? How can you or I in our stricken hours understand the necessity of any good being taken away from us?
We can see today, of course, that the Christ in spiritual presence with His disciples was far more and more precious than the Christ in bodily presence, but they could not see it then, and probably we should not have seen it if we had been in their place.
II. Note the principle contained in these words of our Lord.
(a) And first of all there is the sympathetic gauging of the mental and spiritual condition of His pupils. Every true teacher will have that characteristic, and the Divine Teacher has it pre-eminently.
(b) We can limit and frustrate the purposes of Christ by our attitude and our condition. The progress of a learner, or one who professes to be a learner, in school or business depends not only on the teacher, it really depends much more on himself. And this is entirely true in the spiritual realm. No teacher, not even the Divine Teacher Himself, can give you more than you are able or willing to receive.
III. Observe our Lord's patience with those incapable of receiving His teaching. He can never tell them face to face now the things that He intended to say. He is going away with them unsaid. But He is not going to shut the door of opportunity. The text is followed by 'Howbeit'. In days to come there may be the desire which does not now exist. Then though He is absent, the Spirit will be at hand to bring to memory the things of Christ to take of the things of Christ which they were now unable to receive and show them to them. So our Master is exceedingly gracious and patient. He stands at the door and knocks. 'Has waited long, is waiting still,' as our hymn says. Tarrying for His slow and reluctant disciples, and in infinite grace waiting for their mood of willingness, that He may return and impart His blessing.
Charles Brown, God and Man, p. 136.
The Persistent Influence of First Ideas
Capacity must determine revelation. That is the vital principle enshrined in my text. The food is to be adopted to the system, the doctrine to the years. We neglect that principle at our peril.
I. If this is to be the principle of instruction, if we are to recognise the law of reserve in our declaration of truth, if the harder teachings must be kept for the maturer years, it is of infinite importance that the simpler teachings be scrupulously true. Alongside the principle of reserve this second principle must be given an equal place, that nothing must be taught in childhood which will need to be unlearnt in manhood. We cannot exaggerate the intensity of first impressions; they bite deep into the mind and are almost ineffaceable. The first impressions persist through the life. Our teaching must assume the need of subsequent expansion; it must never assume the need of subsequent expulsion.
II. Now, of these simple, germinal teachings, the most vitally important are the conceptions of the being and character of God. Where do our children obtain their first ideas of God? Sometimes from a picture. Sometimes from a hymn.
III. What, then, shall be our first and elementary teachings about God? What shall be the character of the earliest revelations? (1) They should be brimming with soft and inviting sunshine. (2) When we have taught the little lives what God is, I know of nothing more exceedingly precious than to teach them how to recognise God's touch. We may tell them that in the inner and unseen life of each there is something called thought, and something called feeling, and something called will, and that when the great and unseen God comes near to us He dwells especially round about these three, and that in these three we may recognise His presence and feel His touch. How may we know the touch of God in our thought? Cannot we tell our children that when they engage in the worship of the sanctuary, or when they pray in the privacy of their own home, or when they are walking in the common way, in school or at play, and find a little thought giving place to a larger thought, a self-seeking thought yielding to a brother-seeking thought, it is the touch of the Lord God. How may we know the touch of God in our feeling? When malice changes into goodwill, when envy is transformed into unselfish rejoicing, when irritable-ness becomes a cordial patience, when the waters sweeten, and vulgar passion of any kind is refined into exquisite love, we may know that the great God is at work in the wells of our being, and by all these evidences may we recognise His touch. How may we know the touch of God in our wills? Let this be our beginning. When the sense of weakness yields to the sense of power, and when in the presence of duty "I can't" gives place to "I can," and "I can" ripens into "I will," we may be assured it is the touch of the Lord.
J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, p. 126.
References. XVI. 12. Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 10. W. C. Wheeler, Sermons and Addresses, p. 172. J. C. Houchin, The Vision of God, p. 49. C. Brown, God and Man, p. 136. S. A. Brooke, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 294. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 121; ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 467; ibid. vol. vii. p. 93; ibid. vol. viii. p. 24. XVI. 12, 13. Bishop Welldon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 232. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 64. XVI. 12-14. Bishop Wordsworth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 244. XVI. 12-15. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 110.
The Earthly Life of the Holy Ghost
I. The coming of the Holy Ghost was no mere isolated event in the history of the kingdom of God; it was a great epoch, the opening of a new era in the life of man, the ushering in of a new dispensation. No operation of the Divine power can ever be determinable in itself. It has in it of necessity the element of continuous duration. (1) Even the primal work of Creation, although pictured for us in poetic language which suggests the idea of completion and conclusion, was not so much a finished work as an initial impulse, of which the creative energy should extend and operate through all the coming ages, ever renewing the face of earth, and perpetuating the life of the creatures which find on it their dwelling-place from generation to generation. (2) So it was also in the Incarnation of the Son of God. The union of the two natures in His Divine Person was not a mere fact in history. It was the initiation of a new purpose of love, by which not only humanity itself, but its individual members, should be brought into closer union with the living God. (3) And so it is with the coming of the Holy Ghost. He did not come as one that would come and go. He came to stay, to abide with us for ever. Although never within sight, He is never out of call. He came not to die for us, but to live with us. He was to be the interpreter of the Divine truth.
II. The history of the Church of Christ has furnished a continuous illustration of the fulfilment of Christ's promise. We see it in the gradual growth and development of Christian doctrines and of Christian worship. From age to age we can hardly fail to trace in the development of Christian faith and Christian life the overruling guidance of the Holy Ghost, directing the minds of men to some particular aspect of the truth, according as His infinite wisdom and love discerned a convenient season or foresaw some coming; need.
III. It may be well for us to consider one or two directions in which the Church of Christ at the present time, and we its makers, need more especially the guidance of the Holy Spirit (1) Take, for instance, the question stirring in so many hearts, and more and more from year to year, the question of the unity of the Church of Christ and the reunion of its divided branches. (2) There are other questions. To take but one instance: who is not conscious of the ever widening and deepening desire among all sorts and conditions of men and women to gain some knowledge of the condition and the experience of those who are hidden from us by the drapery of death, who have passed into some inner mansion of the Fathers house? Everywhere our people are asking what are their relations to the departed; what community of spiritual fellowship is possible between them; what intercourse of thought or of feeling; what personal affection; what mutual knowledge, above all what reciprocity of prayer? On all these questions the Word of God is very remarkably silent, and we can hope for no further revelation to enlighten our minds and comfort our hearts; but in the words of our Lord and His Apostles, and in the instincts of the enlightened consciences, and in the aspirations of sanctified hearts, there are suggestions and intimations which need only to be fully and readily understood to shed light upon the dimness, or even the darkness of that hidden world, and to guide both our thoughts and our prayers into the way of peace. And the Holy Spirit will not fail us.
Archbishop Maclagan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxviii. p. 5.
References. XVI. 13. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No 50. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 396. Archbishop Maclagan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 1. E. A. Bray, Sermons, vol. i. p. 303. T. F. Crosse, Sermons, p. 182. E. H. Hopkins, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 797. C. E. Beeby, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. pp. 97, 132. John Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, p. 150. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 189. XVI. 13,14. H. Emmerson, A Book of Lay Sermons, p. 109. W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 59. XVI. 14. E. Griffith-Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 120. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 255. E. Bayley, Sermons on the Work and Person of the Holy Spirit, pp. 139, 201. A. R. Ashwell, God in His Work and Nature, p. 94. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 465, and vol. 1. No. 2907. W. Alexander, Primary Convictions, p. 302. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 94. XVI. 14,16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvii. No. 2213, and vol. xl. No. 2382.
A Little While
The disciples did not know what our Lord meant. Our Lord heard their reasonings, and He came and explained to them that 'little while'.
I. The 'Little While' Yet it is not so easy for us to understand it perfectly, and we must reason with ourselves even as the disciples did. Some people have thought that our Lord merely meant that there should be a spiritual seeing of Him, and that in that spiritual seeing they should have perfect rest and perfect joy; that Christ should be all in all to them. But can we limit it in that way? Our Lord was speaking of the time when the Jews should rejoice because He, the great Destroyer of the peace of Jerusalem, the One Who attacked all the corruptions of the Jewish Church, was hanged upon the cross. Did the disciples see Him? Was not that a little time? Did He not rise again on the third day, did He not at once appear to them? So that we have an explanation of the first little while perfectly clear to our minds and thoughts. It was simply this, the world rejoiced because the Christ was dead; the disciples wept because the Christ was dead. They looked upon Him now, they saw Him with them, they heard His words, and He had told them that a little while hence He would be passing away, and they should see Him no more. Is not that the explanation of the first little while?
II. God's 'Little While'. But when we come to the second 'little while,' there is a difficulty as to what our Lord meant. He was to go to the Father, vet do we not see Christ now? The disciples saw Him as He rose from the dead. We, too, see Him upon that cross which is our glory, and He is to us the living One, because He was the dead. When He rose from the grave He only proved to us that the Father accepted His sacrifice, and because He had borne the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors, therefore He had come out victorious with a victory that would last for ever and ever. Christ is to us a source of constant blessing, the source of all our consolation. He lives in our faith, and, if we have any hearts, He lives in our love, He lives in our life. So when the disciples saw Him again their joy was full, because they knew that Christ had risen. And their joy was to remain that which no one could take from them; it was to last for ever. So it has ever been; and all the greatest and most devout thinkers upon this verse have been of opinion that the 'little while' in which Christ promised to be seen again is the 'little while' of God which lasts on in the Christian Church until Christ shall come again. There was a little while, and He was hidden; there is this little while, and he lives with us, in us.
III. The Sight of Christ. So, too, do we not see Christ? What do we mean by saying at the end of our prayers, 'Through Jesus Christ,' unless we see Him? It is, indeed, a sight of faith, but it is the sight the Spirit gives us of all the love, power, beauty, and work of Christ. Let us ask God the Holy Spirit to paint for us the living Christ more perfectly, to show us the praise of that endless love, and to cast His bright beams upon our own reading concerning the blessed Lord. It is just so that we must pass the little while here until there comes, in the soft shades of night, the Voice which says 'Come up hither,' and we go and meet our Lord in the bright beams of His own light.
The Ascended Lord
I. The Ascension of the Lord is a help to the true vision of Him.
II. The Christian life on earth is one of joy in the risen Lord.
III. The Christian life is a course of instruction from an inward Teacher.
IV. The Christian life is a course of fulfilled desires and abundant gladness.
References. XVI. 16. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 85. W. P. S. Bingham, Sermons upon Easter Subjects, p. 76. Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 166. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 356. XVI. 16-18. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 17. XVI. 16-19. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 120.
The Point of Perplexity
That is a point in the history of the soul which often passes without recognition. We are great on infidels, we deliver courses of lectures upon blatant and vulgar infidelity; some men have made their reputation along those lines. And others are great on triumphant faith; some ready skilful writers have written hymns of victory for the use of the Church in its highest mood. We thank God for such poets and prophets. But the we-cannot-tell period has that period any lyrist, any poet of high and worthy aim? We are all now and then in the we-cannot-tell period, and has any man arisen to turn our cannot-tell into some kind of joyous and hopeful psalm? Will you kindly suspend your lectures to absentee infidels, and come to these poor souls who are fumbling and groping and crying, We cannot tell whether this should be, or that should be, or whether we are now going exactly to the right or somewhere to the left. What a field there is unoccupied for the souls in the cannot-tell period! We dare not mention it even in prayer; and yet here we are with all these problems round about, all these great unsolved enigmas; yet we would like to know what the answer is.
I. 'We cannot tell what He saith;' we come to the point of perplexity. It may be thus, or it may be so; what thinkest thou, John, James, Peter? are you all silent? So am I. 'A little while, and ye shall see Me: a little while, and ye shall not see Me, because I go unto the Father.' What is this that He saith? we cannot tell what He saith. We are at the cannot-tell period. No infidels are we and no doubters; it is still He that wondrous pronoun that gathers into its ample meaning and its glowing love all the nouns that have ever represented Him in the grammar of history. What is this that He saith? we cannot tell what He saith. It is still He, the living, beautiful One, the brother-sister, the man-woman of the race, who carries the crown and a cross; for He is the Lord that saved the world.
Many of us are at this point, we cannot explain the words of Jesus; we are glad that many of them are yet without explanation: we have no confidence in those people who know all about it, as they would vulgarly say. We want to have knowledge enough to make us silent; we want to know enough that we may pray in a humble tone.
II. There are Scriptures we can hardly read, let them alone for the time being; there are other Scriptures that we can only partially explain, and we go to them now and then to see if the buds be opening and if we can inhale fresh fragrance in the King's garden; there are other passages that mothers can speak to children, and children can understand by their hearts, and in these passages we revel and triumph and hold sweet sacrament. Why do you not confine yourselves to those things that you can really take hold of and apply and profit by? Why will you be endeavouring to read books you cannot read? Let them alone; not for ever, mayhap, but for the time being, and keep to your psalm, your sweet Jesus words, to the smile of the Master, to the encouragement of the Apostles. I hope some day some strong man, who is ready to be slain by the Church, will arise, and read us the Bible by the distribution of progressive steps, so that we shall end with Moses, and thus understand what Moses meant, go back to roots and origins and plasms, and thus interpret the Old Testament by the New and the New by the Old, and find that they are the same sacrament, and the same Testament, and the same covenant with the souls of men.
III. Now how did Jesus Christ treat this point of perplexity? First of all, He did not rebuke it; He said, What ye know not now ye shall know hereafter; I keep a great school known by the name Hereafter, and you will be promoted to that higher school in due time; do not expect to do everything in twelve hours, do not expect to do everything within the little span of your, life; hereafter ye shall see, hereafter ye shall know; I have many things to say unto you, but you could not bear them now; why, you could not even hear them now, you would not understand them now; for My revelation is gradual and progressive, it is like the path of the just man, shining more and more unto the perfect day, and we forget that we ever saw the grey, cold time of winter. He does not do away with the point of perplexity; He says, it is good for you to have this puzzle, work away at that in the meantime; do not be impatient, do not tear the organ to pieces in order to see where the music comes from, and do not be taking up the roots of the flowers to see how the roots are getting on. Simply wait; O, wait upon the Lord, wait patiently for Him, and He will come with the morning star. Yes, Jesus Christ satisfies perplexity with a promise; Not now, but in another time.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. in. p. 194.
What Is This
There is a discipline in bewilderment You have not lost religion because you cannot explain it, and you are profited by many a sermon you do not understand. What wild men they are who suppose that everything goes through the channel of the understanding, and that no man is scholarly or learned who does not know five-and-twenty alphabets and all their lore.
There is a discipline of bewilderment. The disciples said, We cannot understand this talk: today He says something that appears to be very clear, and yet there is a great cloud upon it before we have time to consider what it is. 'What is this that He saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see Me; and again a little while, and ye shall see Me: and, Because I go to the Father?... What is this that He saith, A little while? We cannot tell what He saith.' To-day we are lost, but in an infinite ocean of truth and love and suggestion.
I. We should pause here and there in the great teaching of the sweet One, and ask, What does this really mean? We should apply this inquiry to many of the scenes in Christ's life and to not a few of His words. He spake in riddles, He talked in parables, He dreamed in metaphors. Unless we are of the same mental breed we cannot follow Him, we do not belong to His kith, He does not speak our mother-tongue. Hence it is that some are wise and some are foolish in the things of the kingdom of heaven; that which is poetry to one man is prose to another, and that which is prose in some instances may be burning, throbbing poetry in others. All things are not the same things to two people; each takes his own view, each has his own God. Perhaps we have lost a great deal of the true theology by supposing that there is only one God, in the sense that all men must take the same view of Him or be lost. There is only one God that is the glory of the Christian religion but in how many phases does He reveal Himself, to how many ministries in the heart does He appeal, at what various points He knocks if haply the door may be opened and entrance effected.
II. There is discipline in bewilderment. Many people find heterodoxy in it. Many persons think that religion consists of clear views. What is a view? and what are clear views? and what are the chances of clear views in grey days and cloudy times, and times of unrest to the soul, and sadness because of sin, and hopelessness because the last door we battered at did not open? We measure ourselves by false standards, and we especially measure others by standards of our own creation. We may be singing the same great truth in a thousand different tunes. It is not the tune but the truth, not the rhyme but the hymn that we should be careful and anxious about.
III. It is marvellous at how many places we may stop and say, 'We know not what He means, what He saith'. We have been with Him, the disciples might have said, now a year, two years, and three years, and He has given us hints that He is going away, and yet in all those days He never asked a man amongst us to pray for Him. Two or three of us have gone up mountain-paths step for step with the Son of God; we have seen the wrinkles of sorrow deepen His cheeks, we have seen His eyes melt in tears, but He never called Peter or James or John, and said unto one of them, 'Ask all the others to join you in praying for Me' never. Who was this Son of man? who is this Majesty who asks no prayer on His own account, yet who prays for His enemies, and dries the tears of others' sorrows?
Jesus Christ never rebuked anybody for merely intellectual errors. He expected them; intellectual errors must attach themselves to finite thinking. Jesus Christ did not pay any attention whatever to mere opinions as simple products of an undisciplined and unchastened intellect. He did not say, 'Be good enough to show me your theological statement, and I will see whether you are right or wrong'. As if any man could be either right or wrong by a written certificate of anything whatsoever. He cared for the heart, He looked into the soul, He offered the soul cleanness, and I will follow Him. It is good to be where Jesus is.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vi. p. 2.
Reference. XVI. 18-26. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 297.
He saw their lips shape into a question. But they dare not go any further. This presents Christ to us in a most interesting and pathetic aspect. He knows the unspoken prayer blessed be God! There are prayers we dare not put into words; there are wonders and problems to which we dare not give expression. We do not know one another sufficiently, or we would know that behind many an utterance of faith there is a deep moan of unbelief. We put our best selves forward on many occasions, and we do so without pretence or conceit; we try to think ourselves into better selves, and in advance we speak the great words we shall one day speak as part of the current experience and reality. Sometimes we store our prayers; they are the prayers that are going to be answered in a month, perhaps next year; we have many entries into the execution of which we have not yet come. We have pledged to meet the Lord under a hawthorn bush, in a wide, green field, in some little bay by the sea that nobody knows of but ourselves. We must not be taken just at the moment as always realising the high triumphs which we venture to express in words; they are the triumphs that are going to be, the victories of the long-coming tomorrow. We can only enter into these mysteries and eternities by prolonged, deep long-suffering and long-torturing experience.
The happiness is that Jesus Christ knows all about this; He knows the questions we would like to ask, how many they are, how urgent. This is the comfort, that Jesus knows every one of them. Let us witch Him coming along; He may interpret our attitude and give it words. The Lion of the tribe of Judah hath the power to open all seals; He may rend the seal of our ignorance and our agonising desire. Let us tarry awhile here and there. Jesus will find us out, and we can so look that He will understand the expression, and so kind is He that He may find words for our silence and our distress.
I. Jesus finds us sitting by the grave, and He knows that we are desirous to ask Him, and we dare not So we can only look; but what a look it is! how it tears the heavens in twain, how it pleads with the eloquence of miserable silence! He pauses, He draws near; He also looks as well as we do; there is a masonry of facial expression; He knows the meaning of the dumbness, and knows that it is the biggest eloquence we ever poured out of our lips, and yet we dare not but restrain the growing flood lest we should grieve Him by unintentional impiety. Dare you ask Him? You are on terms of great familiarity with this Jesus who is now almost bending over us dare you tell Him our desire? The grave is so little, and it is the first grave we ever dug in our house; it is the burial-place of a little flower. I am desirous to ask Him why the flower ever budded; I am desirous to ask Him how He thinks we can partake of the sacrament of silent misery when we go back this summer afternoon to our lonely home. Can Jesus reach a case like mine? you say. Yes, He can; there is nothing we ever suffered that He has not suffered, only a thousand times more intensely in all that strains the very nerves of the soul. If any one else has suffered this, I have already divided my misery; find me my companion-sufferer; Jesus knows that I am desirous to ask Him, and perhaps through this companion He may send me an answer: O come thou, sent by the Son of God. You do not know how much of real comfort and strength you would part with if you asked all your questions in plain words. There is a comfort in reservation; reticence has its own sanctuary into which it retires as into a deeper self-preservation. Sometimes misery is the very jewel of joy.
II. If we review the whole scheme and economy of life, there are many things we would like to ask Jesus. How is it that this man prospers, and he never prays? How is it that I have to make all my life a hard study so as to keep out of debt and misery, and I try to pray? Jesus knows that I am desirous to ask Him; I want to know about the mystery of the Divine going, I want to know why the garden of the atheist brings forth flowers abundantly, and the garden of the suppliant has not a single flower within its four borders. I should like to ask my Lord that question, but I do not know how to put it; I might imperil my own faith by inquiring into the metaphysics of other people's unbelief. Oh, if He would start the subject I would tell Him about twenty whose lives are complete mysteries as viewed from a Christian standpoint; they bet and gamble and swear, and riot and revel and dance, and cannot get through their money. I would tell Him then of the poor woman who cannot make money enough to pay her rent. If He would begin the subject! He may do some day; then I will venture upon it, and embrace the opportunity of having all my doubts cleared up, and I will be glad to have some Divine illumination upon the plan of Providence. Meanwhile I am an Asaph with a song he dare not sing, a harp he dare not use, a question he may not ask.
III. The very desirousness to ask is a proof of the existence of some faith in the soul. That is a delightful and most vital point. Our very perplexities may be evidences of our faith. If we had no faith, who would care to ask any questions about this chaotic, tumultous world.
IV. Unasked questions need not mar believing prayers. After all, the unasked questions may not be necessary to the edification of the soul. God may educate us by not allowing us to tell everything we want to tell. Self-control is the last result of true power. Not to ask may be to ask. Sometimes not to pray may be the best prayer. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Oh, if He would begin! He will some day, and it will be a long day, a day without an evening star.
References. XVI. 20. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 335. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. lii. No. 2983. R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p. 74. XVI. 20-22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1442. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 131. XVI. 21. J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. ii. p. 29. XVI. 21, 22. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 360.
Comfort in Sorrow
I. In this text and in the surrounding verses and chapters indeed, Jesus Christ is a minister to human sorrow. How gentle He is in all these verses! We ought to have them in the memory of the heart; they would strew summer flowers on the way from the house to the grave, ay, and back again. But we are men, poor, brokenhearted men, so cold is the bereaved air, so lonely the solitary footfall on the house stair, and all things breathe, if they breathe, a sigh of conscious orphanage. What word can help us in that dread moment? No word so lovely as the word of Christ spoken in view of the heartache of men, 'I will see you again'. Oh, write that on every tombstone, 'I will see you again'; write it in the chamber where the separation took place, that awful unwed-ding that was murder, 'I will see you again'; write it on the pillow where the poor head sank in its exhaustion, final and complete as to the body. Oh, thou angel, who hast a pen and dost write things for men to read, write upon that tomb, 'I will see you again'. There is no finality in the sorrow which is experienced by those who love the Lord of Immorality; then every moment is immortal in its ideality, its suggestion, and its ineffable solace. Who will write this upon the little child's tombstone? Oh, those little tombstones! I always go to the children's section of God's acre, the stones that are almost flowers, that will be flowers presently in the warmer summer that is promised to the soul. Write on your dear little child's tombstone, if with invisible ink, write it so that your own heart can see it, 'I will see you again'. How long? That is the question of unbelief; it is the question which we all ask, but really it is not the question of living, loving faith. 'Again:' how long? and I hear amid the aisles of the eternal infinite Church, where the saints gather for their matins, 'For there is no night there... for ever with the Lord'.
II. Who is it that talks about coming again? Who is it that says, 'Let not your heart be troubled '? Who is it that says, 'Sorrow shall be turned into joy'? What was His qualification for touching upon the subject at all? Sometimes we feel that a speech is being well handled by the speaker; he knows it, he has passed through all that it means so far as that is possible within the compass of time. At other moments we feel that the speaker does not know his theme; it is not in him a well of water; he can only speak about it, his language never breaks into music. What was Christ's qualification for addressing the sorrow of the world? It was complete. Taking the Scriptures prophetically and experimentally, and treating them with the idealism which is justified of history and experience, we know that Jesus is the sufferer who holds the only answer to the enigma of sorrow. What do I hear respecting Him? He is 'a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Oh, let me see Him! This is the man I long for and have been seeking for; I have prayed my heart out to the heavens that I might catch some sight of His figure. This is He; He is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Then His voice would be soft with tears. It is. He will not look hardly at me as if He were a severe judge, looking at the crimes and sins which my poor soul represents. No; He will look with eyes of light and love and pity; why, hear me: 'Jesus wept'. That is His qualification. Come, see if there is any sorrow like unto My sorrow. Sorrow only can speak to sorrow. You know by the voice whether the sympathiser has suffered. The want of suffering cannot be concealed; the presence of suffering turns the occasion of sympathy into a sacrament, where there is bread and blood-wine and all the solace of the infinite heart.
III. Ye shall be sorrowful, said the dear man-woman Christ, the brother-sister Jesus; ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy, I will see you again, in many a way, in many a dream, in many an event degraded into an accident, in many a junction of circumstances which you thought was manipulated and consummated by the skill of man, but which was originated and determined in heaven; I will see you again. The spring helps the blood; the May-blossom does not lay its finger on the pulses of the world but quickens them; then we are conscious that even yet in these graveyard hearts there may be primroses typifying resurrection. Here is the promise; do not abate it, do not modify it, do not allow a frivolous disposition or any austere temptation to rob you of your Divine estate; ye are sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. What does Paul say about sorrow? He follows his Master always and most steadily, and he may have at least some echo if not an original tone. He said, lifting up himself for a moment's relaxation and with a smile on his face, 'As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing' (2 Corinthians 6:10 ). What a mixture! what a reality! It is the very reality of our own experience. What is the sub-tone? 'Sorrowful' What is the other tone. 'Rejoicing.' Are you in the night? Yes, but the night is full of stars, talking stars, flashing, descending, spiritual stars. How often we can only see the darkness, not the jewels that glitter on its robe!
References. XVI. 22. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 403. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 225. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 324. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Bay, pp. 345, 355. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2525.
Last night, after seeking out this Saint and that, methought, Why not applie unto the Fountain Head? Maybe these holie Spiritts may have Limitations sett to the Power of theire Intercessions at any Rate, the Ears of Mary-mother are open to alle.
Soe I beganne, Eia mater, fons amoris ....
Then methoughte: But I am only asking her to intercede I'll mount a Step higher still....
Then I turned to the greate Intercessor of alle. But methoughte, Still he intercedes with another, although the same. And his owne saying was, In that Day ye shall ask me nothing. Whatsoever ye shall ask in my Name, he will give it you. Soe I did.
Miss Manning's Household of Sir Thomas More.
References. XVI. 23. W. P. S. Bingham, Sermons on Easter Subjects, p. 189. The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 508. W. H. Evans, Short Sermons for the Seasons, p. 138. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, pp. 445, 482. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 243. J. N. Bennie, The Eternal Life, p. 84. XVI. 23, 24. T. F. Crosse, Sermons, p. 39. R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 184. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 140. XVI. 24. W. H. Evans, Short Sermons for the Seasons, p. 134. C. G. Finney, Penny Pulpit, No. 1562, p. 129. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Bay, pp. 436, 456, 466. XVI. 25. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 277. Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 186. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. i. p. 85. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 235. XVI. 25-27. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 150. XVI. 26, 27. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlviii. No, 2800. W. M. Sinclair, Difficulties of our Bay, p. 136. XVI. 27. R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p. 173. XVI. 28. A. P. Stanley, Canterbury Sermons, p. 350. F. T. Bassett, Christ in Eternity and Time, p. 67. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 159. XVI. 28-33. S. Hall, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 5. XVI. 29-32. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 168. XVI. 30. A. G. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 26. XVI. 31, 32. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i. p. 246. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxviii. No. 2271, and vol. liii. No. 3052.
A deep sense of loneliness was one of the sorrows which the Son of man endured for us throughout His earthly life. Such loneliness is the lot of every one who is in advance of his generation, and therefore it pressed most heavily upon our Lord. Therefore we find Him seeking so often communion with the Father in prayer.
I. The Loneliness of the Cross. But as the end drew near, we gather from the text that His affectionate human nature shrank from that hour of intense and utter loneliness, and He finds unfailing comfort in the abiding presence of the Father. It is true that in one awful sense He could not be alone, even when His friends fled and forsook Him, for at His trial when He stood before Pilate He would hear a thousand voices crying harshly for His blood, and see a thousand faces turned to Him; but when there is no sympathy between the individual and the multitude the loneliness of a large crowd is more painful and more absolute than that of a desolate mountain range, or even of the Great Sahara. Now each life that is brought into harmony with that of the Divine Master will reproduce, more or less, His sorrows, and generally the more faithfully that life is followed the more will the sorrows be intensified. We see in the life of St Paul the working out of this principle. His personality was strongly marked, and his isolation proportionately great. He led and maintained a ceaseless struggle for the liberty of the Gospel. His missionary labours brought the same consequence. Yet, from his own testimony we know that he was not alone, for the Lord stood by him.
II. The Loneliness of Human Life. So far we have considered the loneliness which results from taking up the cross; but we must not forget that there is the loneliness which is a condition of human life, apart from religion. We have all experienced this in our own lives, or witnessed it in others. We must have felt it when we have visited houses where death has lately entered. We have realised that between ourselves and the mourners there was a great gulf which we could not cross! They were cut off from us in their grief! We could speak heartfelt words of sympathy, yet we knew that in their anguish they were alone that all we did or said left them still alone.
III. The Loneliness of Old Age. Old age brings inevitably a deep sense of loneliness. The friends and companions of early days one by one cross into the Beyond, and each year grows more lonely. We enter into a new generation a new age in which we have no part or interest. It is as if we stood on a hill overlooking a familiar landscape, in the calm evening hour, and as twilight deepened into night we saw the well-known objects disappear in the darkness till we stood alone.
IV. The Loneliness of Death. There is the loneliness of death. It is this which gives it the impress of solemnity which keeps it ever from the touch of the vulgar and commonplace. In that last journey none may go with the traveller. None can bear him company in the valley of the shadow of death. We may hold the hand of the departing one, but when the head droops and the heart ceases to throb, the soul must go out alone. None can follow, none can comfort except the Father. Truly in the awfulness of that moment the feeling of an utter loneliness will fall on that soul, unless in life Christ has been the guide and teacher, the hope and Saviour then, if so, that soul will be comforted with the comfort with which the Saviour comforted Himself the 'Father is with Me'.
References. XVI. 32. Walter C. Smith, Sermons, p. 312. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 97. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. i. p. 254. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 309. G. T. Newton, Preacher's Magazine, vol. vi. p. 355. J. Martineau, Endeavours after the Christian Life, p. 75. R. J. Campbell, A Faith for Today, p. 137. XVI. 32, 33. J. C. M. Bellew, Five Occasional Sermons, p. 64.
Secrets of Peace
These words have very special force for us in the fact that they were some of the last words of teaching on the part of our Lord. We appreciate them, then, as the summing up of His teaching, and He tells us that their very purpose is a practical one. 'These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace.' What is peace? We associate it in our minds with what we call calm or quietness, but it is the peace which Jesus had which He offers to give to us, and we must learn from Him how He obtained it. Go back then to His words, the last spoken just before He was taken from them, just before Gethsemane.
I. To Learn God's Will. First of all He reminded them that although He is going away in person, He will be with them in thought. His whole idea was to be preparing for them. Jesus was full of the consciousness that His Father was preparing for Him. He lived with God. We all fly to God in the time of trouble and distress, but we do not live with Him as Jesus did. So often people in times of trouble say, 'If only I knew what to do'. They hurry here and they hurry there, they cannot remain still to learn God's will. How different with Jesus! When His brethren came to Him and asked Him if He were not going up to the feast, He answered them that He was not, because He had not yet received His orders and must wait. His time had not yet come. He wished to do God's will; He lived with God in the perfect consciousness that God was preparing every step that He should take. And so in the midst of tribulation there were no anxieties with Christ; He had cast them all upon His Father and in Him He found His peace.
II. To Realise the Power of Prayer. And then as you follow His words there is more. Not only was the Spirit promised them, but if ever they thought that God had forsaken them, or if there were anything they felt they lacked, they had the power of prayer: everything they asked in His name God would be prepared to do for them. Whatever they asked they should receive. If you look back in the life of Jesus it was the same. It was that power of prayer which kept Him full of peace. If He had work to do, He went in prayer upon the mountain, before He took in hand the great work; if He had Apostles to choose, He went to God first. If He had a long day of care and anxiety and work, He went to God to find refreshment in the power of prayer. He speaks to us from the heart of His own experience, and bids us know that in prayer we may find the basis of our peace.
III. To Rest in God's Love. Christ knew that His Father loved Him, and in that knowledge He found His peace amid the coldness and calumny of the world of men. Jesus has gone behind a veil, but He is not forgetful of those He has left behind. He is thinking of us every moment. He is thinking of us as we go into the world, so that our difficulties are in the mind of Jesus already. There will be times when it will be hard to see His hand and to understand His purpose, yet it will be behind it all that we shall find our peace.
Dr. A. C. Bradley writes in his Oxford Lectures on Poetry (p. 47): 'The words "I have overcome the world" are among the most sublime on record, and they are also the expression of the absolute power of of the Spirit'.
Luther quoted these words in one of his letters from Coburg in 1530, while the Diet of Augsburg was sitting. In the letter to Melanchthon of June 30, he said, in his favourite mixture of Latin and German: 'Confidite, ego vici mundum. Es wird ja nicht falsch sein, das weiss ich fürwahr , quod Christus sit victor mundi. Quid ergo victum mundum sic formidamus quasi victorem? ' [Why should we then fear a conquered world as if it were the conqueror?] He added in German: 'A man might fetch such a saying on his knees from Rome and Jerusalem'.
Enders, Luther's Briefwechsel, vol. viii. p. 52.
References. XVI. 33. Archdeacon Colley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 154. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. iv. p. 339. E. J. Boyce, Parochial Sermons, p. 93. A. Maclaren, Christian World Pulpit, xliv. p. 104; vol. lviii. p. 260. Brooke Herford, Courage and Cheer, p. 114. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 214. E. M. Geldart, Echoes of Truth, p. 132. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 105. Bishop Creighton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 345. J. B. Brown, The Divine Mystery of Peace, Philippians 1:21 , 42, 65, 99. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1327; vol. xxxiii. No. 1994. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, p. 203. R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p. 134. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 151. N. H. Marshall, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. p. 313. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 179. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 416. XVI. 38. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 212.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 16". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany