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The Candour of Christ
Among the attributes of our Redeemer's speech one which arrests attention is its candour. In our text our Lord lays claim to a great openness, and it is a claim which cannot be disputed. Of course this candour of our Lord and Master was always at the service of His love. It was the instrument of a pure and perfect sympathy which knew that there were seasons to be silent. We may trace this candour of our Lord in many spheres.
I. In His treatment of those who came to Him. He scorned to disguise the truth about the future from those who sought an entrance to His kingdom. He never hides, from those who wish to serve Him, that right in the path of the future is a cross. And this is the candour not of indifference but of love, which shrinks from the least appearance of deception, and will have no man say, in bitter moments, that he was tricked into discipleship by guile.
II. Again we note the candour of our Lord in the charges which He hurled against the Pharisees. In the whole range of human utterance there are no more deadly or awful accusations. There is a deep sense in which it was Christ's candour that brought Him at last to His death upon the cross. There are times in every life when it takes a certain courage to be quiet. To every man and woman there comes seasons when the path of duty is the path of silence. But remember if it takes courage to be quiet, it also may call for courage to be frank. And when the heart is sensitive and tender, and shrinks instinctively from causing pain, the duty of candour becomes doubly difficult. All that ought to be borne in mind when we consider the candour of our Lord.
III. Again we note the candour of our Lord in saying that there were things He did not know. Think, for example, of the account He gives of the final coming of the Son of man. Having described that hour, our Saviour adds that He does not know that hour 'Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the Son, but the Father'. It seems to me that such a splendid candour, with all the inevitable risks it brought, is a mightier argument for trusting Christ than many which the theologians adduce. Those who know most are always the most ready to tell you frankly what they do not know.
IV. Then the last sphere in which I note this frankness is in His intercourse with His disciples. There is no friendship worthy of the name for the man who wraps his nature in reserve. What is the response this should evoke from us? Charles Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby says: 'Among men who have any sound and sterling qualities, there is nothing so contagious as pure openness of heart'. Christ, then, opens His heart to you; will you not respond by opening yours to Him?
G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, p. 55.
References. XVIII. 20, 21. C. Bosanquet, The Consoler and the Sufferer, p. 192. XVIII. 24. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlix. No. 2822. XVIII. 25. J. R. Miller, Preachers Magazine, vol. xix. p. 83. XVIII. 26. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2106. XVIII. 28-40. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 236. XVIII. 33-38. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 218.
Reality in Religious Inquiry
That makes all the difference in the world. How do we come to ask questions? what is the occasion or the motive of our inquiry? Are we mere gabblers and gossipers, or are we thinkers and students? Do we ask questions which other people have prompted, or do we ask only the questions of our own heart? Here, as ever, Jesus Christ is the teacher and the example. Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus and said unto Him, Art Thou the king of the Jews? Jesus answered him, How did you come to ask this question? have you any real deep interest in the inquiry? or have you only picked up the rumour of the day? does the question come from your tongue or from your heart? tell me that, and I will answer. Thus He sits in His heavens, and every day talks in the same grand frank manner. Jesus does not answer the gossip of the ages, the new attacks that are made upon His name and upon His kingdom, the clever sallies and the bitter sneers He heeds not; but if any soul will come to Him sunk right down in penitence and brokenheartedness, and say, Lord, I want to know what this means; wilt Thou tell me? oh, let me lay my weary head for one moment on Thy lap and sob out all that is in my troubled heart! then Jesus will stay the sun, and the moon shall hang over Ajalon till the great colloquy is complete in the man's redemption.
I. When coming to church only bring your own questions with you; do not trouble with other people's business until your own is settled, and when you have found an answer to your own doubt and fear, then go out and find some other man, and tell him that if he wants the same balm he must go to the same Gilead. This would abbreviate conversation, this would stop many theological reviews; this would do a world of good by first doing a world of mischief amongst the poor petty things that are set up against the incoming of the kingdom of God. Beware of those people who have reduced life to an illegitimate science of explanations. It will be a poor religion that can be explained, a poor little withered, shrivelled sky that you can get under your plaster ceiling.
II. We want personal experience, personal testimony, personal affirmation. That was the great power of apostolic preaching. When the Apostle Paul stood up anywhere he always said, Men, brethren, and fathers, I It was a right royal egotism, a magnificent audacity in personality; the man told what he was, what he is, how he came from the was to the is, and it was a great turnpike of facts, personal and well-attested incidents; and so clear, ample, definite was the testimony that before you could disbelieve the argument you must destroy the character of the man. That was preaching, and under it men used to rise from their seats, which they never do now; under such apostolic preaching men were pricked to the heart, and they cried out that would be indecorous now. We have run theology into a science, and piety into a decorum. When men want to know the truth because there is a pain in their hearts they will surely get that truth, God will not deny such dumb prayers. He looks down upon all who come to His house, and He says in effect, Here is a man whose very muteness is eloquence; here is a soul whose look is consecration; here is a brokenhearted inquiry, the tears shall be turned into a chrism, the tears shall be turned into waters of baptism and shall fall again in great blessing on the troubled and bleeding heart.
III. When men went to Jesus He always put to them this question, or He always operated as if He presupposed the individuality and consequent reality of the appeal. Once a man crept into his house by night, and he was detained there until the morning. You may depend upon it Jesus saw in him something worthy of attention. The man was deferential, more than deferential, he was truly reverent, and he said, Master, we know that Thou art a teacher sent from God, for no man can do these miracles miracles with this peculiar quality and accent, these miracles that Thou doest except God be with him. Miracles that require testimonials are poor miracles, but when men recognise in the miracles their own testimonials, the quality being so rich, and the purpose of their being wrought so beneficent, then there will be a great incoming to see and to testify the wonders and the realities of the kingdom of God. Nicodemus was kept all night; he heard such a sermon as no other man ever heard; the sermon has, blessed be God, been published for the instruction and edification of the world. I wonder how many of us could repeat that sermon by heart? There is no way over that sermon into the blank desert land of infidelity; it is so rich, so utterly comely, so spiritual, so comforting and sustaining; it brings with it such a great light and such a glorious redemption that when it has ceased we wonder that such music should ever come to an end. He who has read the interview of Christ with Nicodemus cannot be an infidel, does not want to be one; he finds in it enough for intellect, heart, imagination, and the immediate claim and responsibility of life.
References. XVIII. 34. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2624. Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 146. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 277.
The Kingdom of Christ
These words are not merely the rejection of one alternative, they are the affirmation of another. There is a kingdom of which Jesus Christ claims to be the Ruler, but it is not an earthly one. He refuses to leave His Judge under a mistaken impression. It is remarkable that all four Evangelists give us in almost the same language the question of Pilate and the answer of Christ as to the Kingship of our Lord. Art Thou a king? or Art Thou the king of the Jews? gets the reply, 'Thou sayest it' in other words, 'Thou sayest right. I am a king.' What seemingly strange contrasts in mental attitude may be noticed in Jesus Christ! In His daring declaration of His official position we catch a very different note from that struck when He is acknowledging the loneliness or difficulty of His everyday life. Is it the same Person Who says at one time, 'The Son of man hath not where to lay His head,' and at another makes the great declaration, 'To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise,' in response to the cry of 'Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom'? The boldness of Jesus Christ in His official capacity is remarkable. He is labouring to win the world, yet He adopts means calculated to repel the worldling. What attraction could there be to any self-seeking listener in the words 'My kingdom is not of this world'? The immediate result must surely be to make all to whom the things of earth are precious turn away from One Who in effect says that there is no temporal glory to be gained by enlisting under His banner. 'He that will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.' The only thing that seems to be assured to the subject of the kingdom of Christ is that if he is loyal he shall suffer at the world's hands. Jesus Christ showed, indeed, in the whole of His scheme for this world's betterment what one writer calls a 'prodigious originality'.
I. How unlike are His methods to those used by ordinary people who desire influence, and, indeed, to those recommended by some of the shrewd ones of the earth! Jesus Christ makes no attempt to win popular favour. Time and again He has opportunities which He seems almost of set determination to reject He receives worldly advice from those who have thrown in their lot with Him; He repels it with indignation, going so far in one case as to tell St. Peter that. He regards his counsel as proceeding from Satan himself. Again, He will not ask for national patronage or protection for His teaching, or for its exponents. His attitude in the judgment-hall is that which He imposes upon His followers. Instead of allowing an appeal to the then mistress of the world, the Roman Empire, He ostracises His disciples. The days are to come when 'Whosoever killeth' a Christian 'shall think that He doeth God a service'. None of those ties which bind men together are to be used for the advancement of Christianity. Nay, the faith of our Lord is to be the innocent cause of disunion between members of the same household; the crucified Saviour has a sword in His hand. Nor shall the Faith be propagated by the great ones of the earth. The army of Christ is captained by a few fisherfolk, and the weak are chosen to confound the strong. Still, there is absolute confidence as to victory. No deep-laid plans, no long debates, no council of war distinguish the ushering in of the new kingdom. The demand of Jesus Christ for recognition as the example and the King of humanity is decisive and unqualified. It is, indeed, Pilate himself who, all unknowingly, acts as herald of the new Monarch when He brings Jesus before the people and cries:
Behold the man,
Behold your King.
Had it been a worldly Empire that was desired, the means used no doubt would have been different. It was to be a kingdom truly a kingdom in the world assuredly but not a kingdom of the world. The new Sovereign was to lead His subjects to regard what to the worldly was precious as unworthy of the citizens of the heavenly kingdom. All the poor motives actuating humanity were to be enriched by a willing subjection to a new set of ideals, the laws of the new Monarch.
II. We find, however, that there is no forcing of the world into obedience. The sword of the King is not to be used in order to coerce into subjection, but in order to cut down the obstacles impeding the progress of humanity on its way to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus Christ has no room in His Empire for slaves. Those who accept His sovereignty must do so of their own free will. They are to be inspired to do so by the realisation, through knowledge of the King, that he supplies in His personality the demands of our loyalty. 'My kingdom is not of this world.' It does not originate in this world, it is not inspired by worldly ideals. Would you be subjects of it you must get above the world. With this feeling in the soul, humanity can soon realise that Christ is its King. But until there is this longing for the unworldly there cannot be the readiness to subjection to Christ. It is too much the habit of Christian teachers today to assume that by earthly means you can change hearts. Our Lord wins not by careful instruction, not by the world's means, but by the persuasion of His personality.
Assuredly the kingdom of Christ is not of this world. Earth has neither the power nor the love to accomplish such results as He attained. But in order to win men to loyalty, to nerve to heroism, to stimulate in effort, to raise above the world, the methods of Christ are true ones. Man only lives when he has learned the beauty of losing his life for what is noble. Man is then only useful to the world when he is not of the world. Man is only man when he has got ideals which lift him up beyond his worldly self:
Unless above himself he can
Exalt himself, how poor a thing is man.
To do the right in an unworldly way is, after all, the Christlike attitude. Does not this help us to see the usefulness of all faithful and unselfish labour? How strange, for instance, it is to think of antagonism between the Christian and the man of science! The searcher after truth in any field is a partner with, and at the same time a subject of, Jesus Christ. There is no one who with unworldly motive is giving himself to such study as may make clearer to men the mind of the Almighty who is not doing Christlike work. To Jesus was confided the grandest of all tasks the subjection of mankind to a life of high ideals, the raising of human nature to a heavenly atmosphere, to the acceptance of the sovereignty of the Crucified. So long as work, of whatever kind, is being done on such lines the worker is one who has indeed a kingdom, but whose realm is above and beyond this world.
H. Russell Wakefield, The Guardian, 18th November, 1910.
As Christianity appeared amid the imperial civilisation of Rome, so now, amid the chaos of modern civilisation, music starts forth on a similar mission. Each exclaims, 'My kingdom is not of this world'.
Christ's kingdom was not of this world. Not only did the manner of His death annihilate the aspirations of all who had hoped for a temporal Messiah, but it is clear from the silence or brevity of pagan writers that the whole series of events which culminated in the Crucifixion passed unnoticed by the Roman world, and were for the public of the day of no political importance. Christianity could never have attained its spirituality, its adaptability to all climes and races, had it been connected with any particular form of government or society. But in the history of Mohammedanism all these conditions were reversed. The temporal success of the founder has proved ultimately the failure of his system as a worldwide religion. He was not crucified. On the contrary, it is eminently characteristic of him that he declined to believe that Christ suffered this punishment, evidently considering that God could not have allowed so great a Prophet to perish so ignaminiously.
Sir Charles Eliot, Turkey in Europe, p. 164.
References. XVIII. 36. F. Paget, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 245. R. J. Wardell, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 28. J. Clifford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 280. J. B. Mozley, University Sermons, p. 1. J. M. Gibbon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 296. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 310. XVIII. 36-39. C. Bosanquet, The Consoler and the Sufferer, p. 224.
The Divine Power of the Cross
The question was put in scornful incredulity, perhaps in jest: the answer was a solemn and emphatic affirmative. In the days of His popularity He had refused to be made a king. He had never called Himself a king. In the hour of His deepest humiliation, when everything seemed lost except His goodness, He was most of all the King. He knew then, what we know now, that His real kingship would come from His cross, that His true crown would be woven out of these thorns and nails and spears, and that in the hours of utter weakness and shame would be laid the foundations of His worldwide throne of power.
I. To take any sort of general survey of Christendom is to see that it is the cross power of Jesus which has given Him dominance and supremacy in the thoughts of men, that His sufferings have lifted Him into kingship. Pass through any of those lands where the Romish Church holds sway, and you meet at every turn with symbols and figures of the Crucified. I do not say that all this cruel realism is beautiful, or that these often vulgar representations of His physical agony appeal to our highest sense of reverence. I only emphasise this fact, that in all these lands it is the cross which holds men's minds and a sacrificial love which constrains their worship. Nor is it greatly otherwise in Protestant lands, though we use few or no pictures and images to stimulate faith's sluggish imagination. Ever on the horizon of our devotions nay, in the very centre of our worship there is a cross.
II. Again, when we try to estimate the Saviour's power over the thoughts, emotions, and actions of men, we fix our eyes once more upon the cross, and there begin, continue, and end. The charm of His human personality has swayed and enraptured a few minds, but the mass of men have been melted and overpowered by the mystery of His sacrifice, and the pathos of His tears. Truly, it is Calvary that has made Him king.
III. And now when we ask the secret of this power we are baffled. It is for the most part inscrutable. We can but see this much that it draws the human heart to it with irresistible force, because there (1) the heavy-laden conscience of the world finds deliverence. (2) Again, the cross has drawn the human heart because continually have men felt that it brought God down into the sphere of human sorrows and made Him an inseparable part of the pangs and griefs of His afflicted children. (3) And, lastly, the cross is slowly drawing the whole world to it because the world in its deepest and truest thoughts is more and more discerning and feeling that only in the spirit of the cross, in the thoughts and ideals and motives of the cross and the spread of these things through the mass of human life, can there be any hope of the regeneration of humanity and the renewal of the world.
J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 14.
References. XVIII. 37. Bishop Stubbs, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 129. H. H. Almond, Sermons by a Lay Head Master, p. 130. S. A. Tipple, The Admiring Guest, p. 15. W. E. Chadwick, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 1012. W. Mair, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 26. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1086; vol. xlix. No. 2826. J. Keble, Sermons for the Holy Week, p. 57. Walter C. Smith, Sermons, p 182.
But what is truth? 'Twas Pilate's question put
To Truth itself, that deigned him no reply.
And wherefore? will not God impart His light
To them that ask it? Freely 'tis His joy,
His glory and His nature, to impart.
But to the proud, uncandid, insincere,
Or negligent enquirer, not a spark.
References. XVIII. 38. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. ii. p. 330. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, The Men who Crucify Christ, p. 20. J. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 132. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1644. S. A. Brooke, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 294. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 359. XVIII. 40. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons, p. 117. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 595. C. Stanford, The Evening of our Lord's Ministry, p. 273. XIX. 1. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 328. XIX. 1-6. C. Stanford, The Evening of our Lord's Ministry, p. 289. XIX. 1-16. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 244. XIX. 4-6. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 321. XIX. 5. Archbishop Magee, Sermons at Bath, p. 149. C. S. Macfarland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 119. R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p. 50. XIX. 6. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series) p. 58.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 18". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension