Friday, June 2nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Parker's The People's Bible Parker's The People's Bible
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on John 13". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ jpb/ john-13.html. 1885-95.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on John 13". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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The incident recorded in this chapter is made the more beautiful by certain features of surpassing grandeur which are found in immediate connection with it. There seems, indeed, at first an inequality between the majesty of the mountain and the value of the frail flower which blooms on its sunny height. We are startled by the difference between the introduction and the progress of the narrative. It is as if God had called attention by great thunderings, and when he had excited the expectation of the universe, introduced, not a burning seraph who might have maintained the high tone of the introduction but a quiet little child, a miniature of his own gentleness and purity. This is the introduction, hear it, and say whether the representation now given be correct. "Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God " At this point wonder is excited. We inquire what will he do now, at this critical and trying juncture of his life? Jesus knows the fulness of the mystery set forth in his incarnation; he sees the beginning in the light of the end; he knows all; he sees God behind him sending him into the world, sees God before him welcoming him after the completion of his earthly ministry. What will he do now? Jesus has come within sight of the end; all the fragments of his life are gathering themselves together and taking wondrous shape, as he beholds them coming into union and forming themselves into their hidden meanings, what will he do now? We wait almost breathlessly for the next sentence. Let us read it as our imagination might dictate it. Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God and went to God, unfolded secret wings and went up into the light; unveiled splendours which had been concealed under the guise of his flesh; called angels host upon host, a dazzling throng to bring the crown he had left in heaven. This is our notion of greatness, of pomp, of circumstance. But, just as when the disciples asked who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus set a little child in the midst of them, so when we ask, What will he do when the great mystery is revealing itself to him? he does not any one of the supposed wonderful things which he might have done, but, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, he began to wash the disciples' feet! Who but himself could have afforded such an apparent anti-climax? Where is there any creation of your romance that can play so with the public? What man can afford in one moment to affect sublimity and grandeur and majesty, and in the next ask to wash your feet? It seems as if Jesus Christ might have washed the disciples' feet in the midst of his most obvious humiliation. He need not have reserved that display of his humility for the supreme moment of consciousness, when God's eternity was round about him, beating in waves of immortal blessedness upon the earthliest and poorest aspects of his mission. Yet it was then, when the whole thing, in all the brightness of its glory, showed itself to his inmost heart, that he stooped to wash the feet of the men who had followed him!
Consider this attentively. We ourselves, creatures redeemed and sanctified, sometimes have moments of special spiritual vividness. Now and then we see our grandeur as sons of God. In such moments we get views of ourselves as seen in Christ Jesus which bless us with divine elevation and peace. Now, what is the social expression which we give to such sublime consciousness? How is that consciousness made to tell upon the people who are round about us? The consciousness will surely perish, leaving no heart-blessing behind it, unless under its inspiration we do deeds of nobleness, compassion, charity, which shows how even the commonest and poorest side of life may be lifted up and made beautiful. This was how Jesus Christ turned to practical account his highest consciousness of Sonship: knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God, he began to wash the disciples' feet! Sublime consciousness was thus turned into condescending service; high spiritual dominion and joy found expression in a deed of humility without which even the greatest revelation of majesty, the revelation of the Son of God, would have been incomplete. The deed was simultaneous with the consciousness. Jesus did not wait until the keenness of his joy had abated a little. In the very fulness and glory of his power he laid aside his garments, took a towel, girded himself, and began to wash the disciples' feet. Do not let that picture pass away from your minds as if it were nothing. He laid aside his garments, took a towel, girded himself, and began to wash the disciples' feet. If that picture will not melt men and make them solemn, it can do them no good. It was in the highest moment of his consciousness that he did this. We are to do even little things when we are at the highest stretch of our strength. All the work of life should be done under inspiration. Not only the greatest things; not only the fine carving, but the mortar-mixing; not only the fighting of splendid battles, but the taking home of straying lambs and the gathering up of fallen fragments. So, if we catch aright the meaning of Christ, the elevation of our consciousness is to express itself in the beauty of social charity and service. It is not to consume itself in beatific quietism and sentimental contemplation; it is to prove itself divine by embodiment in visible and useful labour. The apostle says, "We know that we have passed from death unto life." Pause a moment, then, and let us try to find out the reason. Because we feel very comfortable in our hearts, because we like to sit very closely to the fire and read a favourite author, because we have occasional gushings of very tender feeling, is that how we know we have passed from death unto life? The apostle says, No. His argument is this: We know the same word that we have in the text, Jesus knowing that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. Alas! there is this danger about our religious life today: We think, when we get hold of a favourite book, and repeat certain familiar hymns, and look upon ourselves, in relation to the social blessings with which God has gifted us, that we are doing everything that is needful to show our relationship, to prove our redemption by Christ. The Saviour, knowing the full mystery of God's purpose concerning his ministry in this world, seeing his hands filled with the gifts of God, opened those hands that he might wash the feet of the disciples. There is a contemplation of which I am afraid. There is a species of spiritual luxury which amounts to the most terrible temptation and snare. Do you say there are times when you feel as if you could wash the feet of the poorest disciple of Christ? Then why do you not do it? You wear away your feeling, and incapacitate yourself for its recurrence in all its finest sensibility, by allowing it to reach the highest point without turning it into the most condescending service.
In the course of his attention to the disciples Jesus came to Simon Peter. We are entitled, are we not, from the structure of the sentence, to infer that Simon Peter was not taken first? We do not stop to debate the question. The point is of little importance except as bearing upon those who draw mischievous lessons from the supposed supremacy of Peter. The principal point is found in the conversation which passed between the wondering disciple and his condescending Lord When Jesus Christ came to Peter that disciple spoke to him. "Dost thou wash my feet?" "Yes." "Lord, thou shalt never wash my feet." Peter reasoned from a much lower consciousness than Christ's. Peter saw nothing beyond the mere fact of washing the disciples' feet. To him it was only a fact; it was not an emblem. It lost its meaning because he did not look at it in a spiritual light. It was only something done; it was not a parable full of secret meaning, palpitating with divine mystery. How true it is that to the wise man, whose eyes are in his head and whose heart has any sympathy with God, "things are not what they seem." Now, in Jesus Christ's answer to Peter we find the other half of the gracious truth on which we have been insisting. It has been said that consciousness is to express itself in service. We now see that, as consciousness sometimes precedes service and dictates it, so occasionally facts prepare the way for consciousness. There is a kind of reciprocal action. Some men can work from consciousness best; can "work from the intuitive, the subjective, the internal, the spiritual. Other men can only work from the point of information, from the point of mere fact; they must see something, handle something, and work their way from the visible to the unseen. It was so in the case of Peter: hence Jesus Christ said, "What thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter." We are not always to work from the point of knowledge, observe. We are not always to work from the point of understanding. There are occasions in life when our highest powers of reasoning are to be set aside, and we are to become little children, creatures of yesterday, receivers only. Those who are blind are invited to put their little hands into the great hand of God. It is as if Christ had said to Peter: "Let the thing be done. Do what I wish, Do the will, and afterwards thou shalt know the doctrine, that external thing which occasions nothing but wonder now, which seems a mere waste of power on my part, shall in due time be seen to have deep meaning, shall become a precious emblem and an inspiring example."
Illustrations of this are not wanting in daily life. You may find one in the ordinance of infant baptism. To each infant it may be said, "What thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter." This baptism is a fact of which the spiritual meaning and spiritual blessedness will come by-and-by. Let it stand at the very beginning of thy life, and God will tell thee all the intent of it when thou shalt be able to hear him in thy heart. Ordinances are not to wait for reason. There are persons who affect to find amusement in observing the ordinance of infant baptism. They talk about the crying little children, and they quite shake themselves with a species of inexplicable fun as they look upon half a dozen poor trembling little things brought up to a basin of water. They say, "What do they know about it, and what can they understand about it?" as if we understood anything, for-getful that the old man is a young being! When shall we give over looking at our ages according to the returns of registrars and the calculations of actuaries? The oldest man amongst us is old and venerable as a man within the limits of this earthly discipline and pilgrimage; but manhood is only a fraction of being, and ten thousand ages are nothing when set against the eternity of God. We know nothing. We understand in its fulness and perfectness nothing. What if we should be pushed aside, and Jesus should take up one of those sweet little infants, and say, This is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? It would be very humiliating to us, because we know and we understand, and we snatch a moment's vulgar sniffling from seeing little children baptised in God's house.
Sometimes things are to be done, and the explanation is to come after the fact. Our first question must always be, Is this the will of God? If so, we shall find the explanation of the mystery in God's way and God's time. I planted a little seed, and, as I was hiding it away in the dark ground, it asked me why I did not let it lie in the sunshine, where it could see the bright blue day and hear the singing birds. I answered, "What thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter." The sun came and the dew and the living air, and for awhile they tarried at the prison-door of the seed. By-and-by the prisoner came forth, beautiful in form and exquisite in colour; day by day it grew in strength and increased in loveliness; and in the fulness of the summer time it knew, without asking me, why I had hidden it in the earth. It is even so with children whose minds and memories are stored with the truths of God's Word. At first they know but the letter. The knowledge of the letter may come through strife and pain. For long years it may lie dead in the heart; but in some season of special sorrow, in the day of trouble and sore distress, when heart and flesh do fail, it may arise and bring deliverance, and lead away the soul into the very presence of God. Believe, then, in the mysteries of life; believe in facts, ordinances, means. The intent and purpose of each do not lie upon the surface. Wheresoever God may bid us go let us hasten to the place, for there we shall find his blessing.
I have said that the explanation of a fact may come by-and-by. In the case before us the explanation came immediately after the event. After he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, "Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet." Suppose that Jesus Christ had laid down the abstract doctrine, Christians, ye ought to wash one another's feet. What would have been the result? Who would have believed him? We should have found in that an instance of mistranslation; there would have been great hunting up of grammars and lexicons upon that point, because it stands to reason that the thing is utterly absurd. There is a missing letter; there is a wrong punctuation; there is a great difference of opinion between critics, we should have said, as to the meaning of this. But what does Jesus Christ do? Instead of merely laying down the doctrine, he gave the example. This shows how teaching may start from either of two points, from philosophy or from life. It may be based upon a course of reasoning; it may express itself in example, in service, in deed. Some teaching must, from the necessity of the case, be purely intellectual; it does not admit of incarnation. Other teaching may at once be practical; it may rise out of the life, and prove by positive demonstration the practicability and beneficence of its philosophy. Christ's method did not admit of debate. It was not a theory, it was a fact. There it was, a stoop that could never be forgotten, an argument which no ingenuity could ever impair. It was practicable; the Lord and Master had done it. It was worth doing, or he who never trifled with life would not have set the example. This shows in a wonderful manner the vocation of men to whom God has assigned positions of lordship and mastery in life. What is our business in proportion as God has set us in eminent places, given us great talent or great wealth, or great position of any kind? Our duty is to set examples of lowliness and charity, the lowliness which comes out of righteousness, the charity which stands upon law. We require all the stimulus of illustrious precedent in order to do some things which are unwelcome in life. We have not courage to do some things solely on their own merits. Even if we could see them to be duties we could never bring ourselves to discharge them. We want somebody else to do it first. We want to hide ourselves under a great name. Christ provides for this peculiarity of our nature. He allows us to use his name and example. "You may say that I did it. If ever you are caught in the humiliating act of washing your brother's feet, and there should come into your cheek a tingling of shame, you may say that I did it." You will in life such are the combinations of society occasionally want precedent. You cannot always work upon the abstract and the right. Sometimes you will want the defence of a name; you will occasionally want to be able to point to somebody behind you and say, "He did it first." "Now take my name, I have given you an example." So we get out of a splendid precedent what we never could have got out of an abstract command. We all know well what this is in life. The young man who wants to try some new plan of doing his work, trembles a little before doing so, and then he says, "I will do it." And when he has been brought to book about it, it has been an encouragement to him when he could point to some older man and say, "He does it." We thus live in one another, and the Past becomes the inspiration of the Present; and precedents and examples are vitalised into the living influential forces of today. This is how our greatest work has been done.
[ See another treatment of this subject in the discourse which follows. ]
Almighty God, we draw near to thy throne without fear or trembling, because thou hast exhorted us to come boldly unto the throne of grace. We come that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help us in time of need. Our life is one crying want. We have nothing that we have not received; thou art the Giver of every good gift and every perfect gift. We humbly desire, therefore, to thank thee for all the mercies we enjoy, and all the grace which has strengthened and soothed our life; for all the hope which has inspired us in the dark and cloudy day; and for the manifold comforts which hath healed our diseases and consoled us when the help of man was vain. We have come up from our households that we may bless God in his own house. We have come to speak the praises of the Most High God, for thy mercy, O King of saints, endureth for ever! We have not forsaken the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but with one accord are found in one place, and we lift up our hearts with one consent. Each worshipper brings his own tribute, each heart has its own song, each hand its own gift. Yet have we common mercies, for which we can find common praises. We can all unite in praising thee for the light of the heavens, the air on which we live. Thou hast spread our table in the wilderness; when we had no bread thou didst multiply the crumbs that were left; when the cruse of oil did fail, thou didst cause it to flow on; when the staff broke in our hands, thou didst give unto us thy rod and thy staff, and they comforted us; when the road was hilly and stony and difficult, thou didst uphold us with strength unfailing, thou didst bring us to the mountain top; when the wind was cold, thou didst shield us from its blast; when the dark night came suddenly down upon us, thou didst set thine eye in the darkness, and behold, it was bright as day beneath our feet! What shall we render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards us? Some have come from the toils of business, the anxieties of earthly life, and are hardly able to emancipate themselves from recollections and apprehensions, from fears and suggestions, which are unfavourable to worship, and which mar the continuity of their contemplation and interfere with the stream of their devotional love. Do thou grant them release from all worldly torments, from all earthly cares, and give thy people to feel the liberty of heaven,:he joy of the presence of God! Some have returned to thy house after long absence; thou hast seen fit to lay them aside from the busy crowd, to give them hours of pain, days of restlessness, and nights of weariness. Now that they have returned to public worship, they desire to speak of the goodness of God, his peace, his healing power, and to be thankful for his sustaining grace. Lord, hear the grateful psalm of such, and abundantly sustain and comfort them, now that they have formed resolutions of intenser devotion and more constant love. Most of us have brought sorrow with us; some little shadow or dark cloud, some wearing grief, some tormenting, oppressive burden, sorrows we cannot tell, we dare not sigh, lest listeners should suspect the hidden grief. We can only bow down ourselves before God, praying that the sorrows of our life may be sources of joy; that out of our very grief we may be able to extract honey which shall refresh the strength of our souls. Do thou sanctify the discipline of life to us; give us control over events and circumstances, so far as to enable us to feel that thy shaping hand is moving amid all the chaos of life, and that thou art working out thine own wondrous order and beauty. It will be enough for us if we know thou art near, and that thy throne absorbs all other powers. The stranger is here, far away from home; the young man is here, far from early association and restraint of home love; the wanderer is here, not knowing why he was born, surrounded by difficulties, depressed, almost despairing; the unsuccessful man, who has knocked at a thousand doors, and no kindly hand has opened one to him that he might have hospitality; the hypocrite, with well-set visor, with double-painted mask, well fitted to his face, the man who can say words with his lips which were never dictated by his heart; the inquirer is here, tossed about by doubt and difficulty and perplexity, sincere in his heart, yet there is a heavy mist upon all his thinking, and he is groping his way towards God, towards life; the little child is here the summer bud, the June flower and even the parent's eye cannot foresee altogether the development and destiny. Look upon us as we are before thee! Lift up those that be bowed down. Strike the visor from the false face. Soothe the sorrowing; dry the tears of grief. Give stimulus and strength to every man in whom there is high aspiration, to every heart in which there is a noble purpose. Enable us all, whether tottering on the brink of the grave, or looking out from earliest life upon all the wonders of existence, to know that thou art our Father, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier, and in God may we have our being! Have mercy upon us, thou loving One! Thou delightest to forgive; we all need thy forgiveness. Help us from our heart of hearts to confess our sins. May we show how truly we confess it by the intensity of our hatred of it. When we own our guilt, may we tremble and be in despair until we see the Cross, the light of the advancing Saviour, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. Wash us, and we shall be clean. Let thy blessing now go from congregation to congregation, from minister to minister, until all who are engaged in worship feel the fire of devotion glowing in their hearts. May souls today be reclaimed, be re-established, be edified, be comforted. Thus at eventide we shall be a Sabbath day's journey nearer home! Amen.
Washing Disciples' Feet
To know the full force and value of those words we should connect them with the third verse of the same chapter, which reads thus: "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God." That is the introduction. It excites expectation that amounts almost to intolerable rapture. What will he do now, in this supreme consciousness, in this hour of the resurrection before the time, the Cross behind, the resurrection past the whole meaning of the divine sovereignty in the incarnation of Jesus Christ revealed in cloudless, dazzling light? Now he will take wing and flee away! He knows now who he is, what he is, what God's meaning in his incarnation and whole ministry is; he sees, from the human standpoint, the beginning and the end; he lays his hands, so to say, on both ends of the chain. What will he do in the moment of supreme consciousness? He will show his diadem now; with his right hand he will take away the cloud which veiled it, and the shining of that diadem shall put out the sun. What will he do in this summer time? We have analogous times in our own consciousness, when we feel what we are, when the divinity stirs within us, when we feel the blood of a hundred kings burning in our veins. What is our wish under the pressure of such heroic and tempting consciousness? Surely to do some great thing; surely to vindicate our right to be called by brilliant names. What did Jesus Christ do? Mark the time: the whole pith of this part of; the discourse is in the point of time "Jesus knowing" in modern words, the consciousness of Jesus urged to its highest point, realising its utmost sensitiveness, receiving into itself the full revelation of the divine meaning. "Jesus knowing" that Ms right hand was full, and his left hand yea, "that the Father had given all things into his hands" what did he do? He arose from supper, he laid aside his garments, he took a towel and girded himself, he poured water into a basin, "and began to wash the disciples' feet." Surely this is madness; surely the sentence frays out here into feebleness. That is our way of looking at all things. We do not know the meaning of what is taking place around us; we do not see that the circle is always bending, and that things made of God are in circles. That is the simple geometry. We cannot tell the meaning of condescension in the divine economy; we do not see that God is always stooping; we do not see that the Infinite is always doing this very selfsame thing, and that suspension of such service would mean the ruin of all finite things. This is what God is doing: he is always washing the feet of angels and men, and the whole universe. God is love; love lives to serve; love does not want to sit down in stately ease sweet angel! she is only happy when she is busy and cumbered about many things.
Let us look at the matter from the human standpoint first of all. Says Jesus: "I have given you an example." Bold how dare he speak so? "Is not this the carpenter's Son?" Do we not know his father and his mother and his sisters? Are they not all with us common folks, like ourselves? But he was both. Compared with his audacity, the boldness of Isaiah was blushing modesty. When did Jesus Christ ever copy an example? Never. These circumstances constitute, to my mind, the most connected and cogent argument in proof of Jesus Christ's deity. Never did Jesus Christ ask for time that he might put his thoughts together; never did Jesus Christ withdraw a speech and ask to be allowed to substitute another in its place; never did the Saviour amend a solitary sentence that he once delivered; in no instance did Jesus Christ say, "This is an example which I myself must copy." Trace him from beginning to end, and he owes no man anything. He gives; if he receives it is to return in ampler love. He never learned letters, yet he was never second in conversation. He was always in himself above his age. He said: "I have given you an example." Many can give advice, many can administer rebukes many can offer all these, but few can set examples towards which they challenge the criticism of all time; yes that is the point all time. It were not difficult to set an example that might live through one cloudy day a day so. cloudy as to make it almost impossible to distinguish between one colour and another; but to set an example that should hold its own against all the coming and going of time brighten and shine over all the days of tumultuous life surely the good of such an example, if it stand the test of time, is the quietest and completest miracle ever wrought by the Son of God. We must find the universal element in the teaching of Jesus Christ, or it was only a lesson for a day a transient speech to an assembly which dissolved in the very act of listening to it. We must have nothing local in Jesus Christ's teaching. Whatever he says must spread itself over all time, all space; must be equally at home at the north pole and the south pole, in the tropics and in the coldest regions of the earth; must have the faculty of entering into all languages, tabernacling in all symbols, and looking out with bright, angel-like hospitality from every tribe, and kindred, and people. In the moment of supreme consciousness Jesus Christ did something that can be done seven days a week on every habitable line of latitude and longitude through all the ages of time; and in this universality and adaptation I find a subtle but invincible testimony to the completeness of the mind, the dignity of the character, the deity of the personality of Jesus Christ.
Being about to leave the world, as we call leaving, what will Jesus Christ do? Look at the disciples as they had never been looked at before, with a countenance whose revelation would mark the critical point in their personal consciousness and history? No. Order them off to some mountain solitude, where, as hermits, they might wait for death? That is not the course which Jesus Christ pursued; he simply we should say he profoundly adopted the course of washing the disciples' feet. That is the unfathomable simplicity of Christ the thing which appears to be so intelligible, and yet that carries with it all philosophies, theologies, and possibilities of thinking worthy of reference. Where is there a man who does not suppose that he instantly sees the whole meaning of an incident of this kind? Yet the angels desire to look into it. We lose so much by dismissing so many things as merely simple. The simplicity of Christ was the profundity of God. There is nothing simple in Jesus Christ. The cry the fool's cry "the simple gospel " it is an affront to heaven! There is no "simple" gospel, except in the sense that simplicity is the last result of omniscience and omnipotence not a simplicity at the beginning, but at the end: the outflow and last miracle of the divine mind and power. I wonder not that believers in the simple gospel vulgarly and mistakenly so-called reel, and totter, and abolish themselves.
The eternal meaning of the text is: that humility is to be a social advantage. There are many humble speakers who ought never to open their mouths in the cause of humility. There are many speakers whose hearts are humble, but whose mouths were not made for mincing. We must leave the inner and complete judgment to him who made us. Criticism of others is not humility; inverted pride is not humility; the confession of some barren sentiment is not humility. Humility is dumb; humility keeps no looking-glass; humility is unconscious of its own blushing; humility wists not that its face, having been turned towards God in long fellowship, burns with the reflected glory of the Image it has gazed upon. Humility has to be an active power in life. The greater we know ourselves to be, the humbler will be the service we shall render, without knowing that it is a service of humiliation not self-display. There is a way of washing feet which says in the doing of it, "Your feet do very much need to be washed, therefore I am washing them." No; the feet will be the viler for the touch. Do not say how servile is the work you are doing, how menial the service you are discharging, and, therefore, how humble you are in endeavouring to carry out the word and wish of the Son of God. Service of this particular kind can only be done in Christ's spirit. It can be done otherwise in the letter; but done in the letter it is not done at all; going to church because you must go you do not go. Washing feet, or doing any service symbolised by that phrase, cannot be done let me repeat except in the spirit of Christ; but being done in that spirit, it is no longer the service of humiliation, because it is balanced by the consciousness out of which it came. In Christ's own instance: "Jesus knowing Jesus washed." If we do the washing without the spiritual consciousness, it is menial service, it is a slave's reluctant oblation on the altar of obedience; but coming out of great prayer, out of something like complete vision of God, it is done as if it were not done, and in the doing of it we do but add to the consciousness which was its first inspiration; and thus whilst we are on earth we are in heaven, and being in heaven we stoop to take dear little earth up and cleanse it, and lift it back into its Maker's smile.
This is Christianity not letter worship, not eye service, but the unconscious doing of works of humiliation through the higher consciousness that there is nothing mean that is done for Christ's sake. When this spirit is in us we shall have no dainty dislike for certain kinds of service in the Church. We do now sometimes pick and choose. We have no objection to high office, but we are not going to do certain things which other people of smaller income might very properly do. We are not going to keep the church door, or light the church lamp, but let us pay a man a few pence to do it a man we can order about, a handy man, who can be here and there and everywhere, and dare not answer us again. O wounded One, Man of the five mortal wounds! Thou washer of the disciples' feet! this is what we have done. Wilt thou look on us? We dare not look at thee. In thine eye is not anger that we might for a moment bear but pity, weeping pity, divine pity, that we dare not look at; it hurts us by its pathos. We cannot do service in the Church, men and brethren, except in the Spirit of Christ by that I mean service that shall have in it the true quality of Christian sacrifice and oblation on the one altar of the Cross. We cannot preach except in that spirit. To preach without great hot tears is not to preach; if there be not times when the heart says, "I cannot bear it any longer! O this pity for human souls!" there is no preaching. We may preach sentences we have made, phrases we have measured off mechanically; but preaching that shall be a washing of men, a cleansing of their lives, a going down to them and lifting them up, is the very gift of God; there is nothing like it, though men do not acknowledge that the painter first, or the poet, or the politician, or the entertainer, or the man of musical genius; but if we knew it, there is but one great man in all creation he who does not know he is great, but who is swallowed up in the love of God and the consequent desire to cleanse the lives of men. In what spirit are we working? Are we willing to be anything or nothing? Is our Christianity: "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Are we willing to be London ministers, but not African missionaries? Do we covet the honours, but leave other people to do the drudgery? Or is the drudgery the honour, the deeper the higher, the meaner the diviner? Dost thou so reckon? No man then shall take thy crown.
Almighty God our Father, made known to us in Jesus Christ thy Son, we will open the day in thy name and in thy love. We would begin it in thy fear, and in confident hope in thy mercy because thy mercy endureth for ever. We can have no fear if we fear God; we are rich if we live in him; we shall be filled with a sacred contentment if we tarry alway at the foot of the Cross. Help us to bring forth abundant fruit to the honour of thy name; may we now be mindful of ourselves more than ever: may we hear the apostle saying unto us, "Look unto yourselves," that in education and discipline and refinement we may make great advance in the things pertaining to the life that is in God. Thou canst do great things for us, yea, thou canst do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. We bless thee that thine answers are not limited by our prayers. Thou knowest what we need, thou knowest what is best for us; keep back what would please us and yet harm us, and give us that which we dread if in its use we shall find ourselves nearer God. We bless thee for all the past. It has been wondrous music; thou hast done great things for us whereof we are glad. We hare changed our way of life, we have gone from house to house, we have seen all the varieties of business life; we have known what it is to be at school, to be suffering from bodily disease, to be rejoicing in abundant health; we have walked in the summer garden, and we have seen the winter snow: and through all the varied way thy hand has led us and thy right hand has upheld us. We will therefore not be silent in thine house, we will make a joyful noise unto the Rock of our salvation, yea with loud songs and psalms will we praise the right hand of the Most High. We thank thee above all other thanks for the gift of thy Son by whom alone we know or can know the Father. He has spoken gently to our listening souls, he has fed us with the bread of life, he has not kept back from us any visions that our eyes could endure; he has saved us from our sin, he has led us to higher character and to more wondrous destiny. Blessed be the Son of God who is to us God the Son, who loved us and gave himself for us. We leave ourselves under thy care, thou loving One, Father and Mother of us all, the great Creator, the tender Redeemer, the wondrous Sanctifier: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost We rest in thy hands, thou mighty One, eternal in majesty and eternal in love. Thou knowest what our purposes are; help us to realise them in so far as they are good. Thou hast made us after a wonderful fashion: we do not know ourselves, we are surprised at our own littleness and at our own greatness; we are amazed by sudden visions that lighten the whole heaven as by a flash from thy throne, and we are amazed that we are so soon overthrown and made to fear and tremble as if we were in the hands of chance and not in the hands of God. Enable us, at home, in business, in the Church, on the highway, at school, in the sick-chamber, everywhere, to know that things are meted, we are in the hands of a watchful gracious Father, and that not a sparrow can fall to the ground without his knowledge. May we live and move and have our being in these great principles; then we shall be calm, restful, contented, and our life shall be as the outgoing of solemn yet tender music. Amen.
18. I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. [The impossibilities of history; the ironies and contradictions of things; the ghastliest ingratitude; the thing that never could have been imagined, 'He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me"; the bread must have turned to poison.]
19. Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he. [We vindicate our prophetic function by tokens. The historian reviews, the prophet foretells. Remember what I said to you: It is about to take place; watch events, and be just to the prophet.]
20. Verily, verily [Assuredly, assuredly], I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. [Lives are related to one another. All human life is a marvellous tessellation. There is no individuality in any sense of absolute isolation. The father means the child, and the child the father, and man may mean God.]
21. When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said Verily, verily [Assuredly, assuredly], I say unto you, That one of you shall betray me. [Yet not necessarily be worse than the rest. There is a transmigration, there is also a transformation, of souls. We represent one another. When Adam fell, all that is Adamic fell. Every man is a Judas, an Iscariot; every man has put in his pocket the price of Christ's blood: there is none righteous.]
22. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. [Their characteristic ignorance; their affected simplicity: yet every heart was quickened. The accent might fall upon any syllable, but the word would be one, the deed would be unbroken.]
23. Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of bis disciples, whom Jesus loved. [Loved in spite of what was wicked in him; not in consequence of it, but in spite of it.]
24. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. [Beckoning and whispering. There are times When it is profanity to speak aloud. The eye must speak, the hand must signify; a whisper must convey the tremendous question. Find out for us, thou loved One, the meaning of this foretelling.]
25. He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? [Who is it that shall act for us all? Who is it that shall seem to be the worst? He will not act for himself alone: a great tragedy is involved here, and it cannot be limited by Iscariot's individuality, who is it?]
26. Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. [That was Iscariot's cross. There are men who feel the heavy weights of the world. There are burden-bearers as well as singers.]
27. And after the sop Satan entered into him. [Satan took more full possession of him; Satan lighted every piece of fuel that had been brought from hell; Satan fired him through and through; Satan leaped upon him, drove him to madness.] Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. [Through no fear on the part of Christ, through no wish for mere haste, but to express detestation. Do not roll thy hands in blood dip them and be gone; do not linger in murder; take no holiday in crime; let it be done shortly, sharply, almost imperceptibly as to time.]
28. Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him [Thus meanings are lost, or are half-caught and are misreported, and the speaker is misjudged, and the reporter is the unfaithful witness.]
29. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. [Thus attaching false meanings to the deepest words; thus using the sun as a light to pass up and down in paths of frivolity.]
30. He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night. [What unconscious poetry! What a marvellous coincidence! What a background! "It was night." No other word would have fitted that frame of things; any other picture would have been out of place there. "It was night": sevenfold night, midnight, darkness that might be felt, a night in which a man might commit suicide.]
31. Therefore, when he was gone out [A wonderful change took place in the atmosphere: it was all over; the bitterness of death was passed], Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
32. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.
33. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.
34. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
35. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Judas Iscariot: A Study of Character
It will help me very greatly in my delicate work of examining the character of the betrayer of our Lord if there be an understanding between us, that it is not presumptuously supposed on either side that every difficulty can be explained, and that perfect unanimity can be secured on every point; and especially if it be further understood that my object is not to set up or defend any theory about Judas Iscariot, but solemnly to inquire whether his character was so absolutely unlike everything we know of human nature as to give us no help in the deeper understanding of our own; or whether there was not even in Judas something that, at its very worst, was only an exaggeration of elements or forces that may possibly be in every one of us. We always think of him as a monster; but what if we ourselves be at least in possibility as monstrous and as vile? Let us go carefully through his history, and see. My purpose is to cut a path as straight as I may be able to go, through the entangled and thorny jungle of texts which make up the history of Iscariot. I propose to stop here and there on the road, that we may get new views and breathe, perhaps, an uncongenial air; and though we may differ somewhat as to the distance and form of passing objects, I am quite sure that when we get out again into the common highways we shall resume our unanimity, and find it none the less entire and cordial because of what we have seen on the unaccustomed and perilous way. First of all, then, let us try to get a clear knowledge of the character of Judas Iscariot, the disciple, and apostle, and betrayer of the Son of God.
"Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" (John 6:70 .) Who, then, will say that the men with whom Christ began his new kingdom were more than men, not bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, but a princely sort, specially created and quite away from the common herd in sympathy and aim? He chose twelve men who fairly represented human nature in its best and worst aspects, they represented gentleness, ardour, domesticity, enterprise, timidity, courage, and one of them is a devil. Not a devil in the sense of being something else than human. Judas was a man like the others, but in him there was a pre-eminent capacity for plotting and attempting the foulest mischief. We are certainly not to understand that our Lord chose twelve men who, with one exception, were converted, intelligent, sanctified, and perfect; nor is it by any means certain that our Lord chose even the most intellectual and influential men that it was possible for him to draw into his service. I do not know that we are entitled to regard the apostles as in all respects the twelve best men of their day; but I think we may justly look upon them as an almost complete representation of all sides of human nature. And as such they utterly destroy the theory that they were but a coterie, men of one mean stamp, without individuality, force, emphasis, or self-assertion; padding, not men; mere shadows of a crafty empiric, and not to be counted as men. On the contrary, this was a representative discipleship; we were all in that elect band; the kingdom of God, as declared in Christ Jesus, would work upon each according to his own nature, and would reveal every man to himself. A very wonderful and instructive thing is this, that Jesus Christ did not point out the supremely wicked man, but merely said, "One of you is a devil." Thus a spirit of self-suspicion was excited in the whole number, culminating in the mournful "Is it I?" of the Last Supper; and truly it is better for us not to know which is the worst man in the church, to know only that judgment will begin at the house of God, and to be wondering whether that judgment will take most effect upon ourselves. No man fully knows himself. Jesus Christ would seem to be saying to us, At this moment you appear to be a child of God: you are reverent, charitable, well-disposed; you have a place in my visible kingdom, even a prominent place in the pulpit, on the platform, at the desk, in the office; appearances are wholly and strongly in your favour, yet, little as you suspect it, deep under all these things lies an undiscovered self a very devil, it may be; so that even you, now loud in your loyalty and zealous beyond all others in pompous diligence, may in the long run turn round upon your Lord and thrust a spear into his heart! Can it be that the foremost sometimes stumble? Do the strong cedars fall? May the very star of the morning drop from the gate of heaven? Let the veteran, the leader, the hoary Nestor, the soldier valiant beyond all others, say, "Lord, is it I?" Which of us can positively separate himself from Judas Iscariot and honestly say, His was a kind of human nature different from mine? I dare not do so. In the betrayer I would have every man see a possibility of himself, himself, it may be, magnified in hideous and revolting exaggeration, yet part of the same earth heaved, in the case of Judas, into a great hill by fierce heat, but on exactly the same plane as the coldest dust that lies miles below its elevation. Iscariot's was a human sin rather than a merely personal crime. Individually I did not sin in Eden, but humanly I did; personally I did not covenant for the betrayal of my Lord, but morally I did, I denied him, and betrayed him, and spat upon him, and pierced him, and he loved me and gave himself for me I
Of course the question will arise, Why did our Lord choose a man whom he knew to be a devil? A hard question; but there is a harder one still, Why did Jesus choose you? Could you ever make out that mystery? Was it because of your respectability? Was it because of the desirableness of your companionship? Was it because of the utter absence of all devilishness in your nature? What if Judas did for you what you were only too timid to do for yourself? The incarnation with a view to human redemption is the supreme mystery; in comparison with that, every other difficulty is as a molehill to a mountain. In your heart of hearts are you saying, "If this man were a prophet, he would know what manner of man this Judas is, for he is a sinner"? O thou self-contented Simon, presently the Lord will have somewhat to say unto thee, and his parable will smite thee like a sword.
"The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed." I think we shall miss the true meaning and pathos of this passage if we regard it merely as the exclamation of a man who was worsted for the moment by superior strength, but who would get the upper hand by-and-by, and then avenge his humiliation. These words might have been uttered with tears of the heart, Woe will be the portion of that man who betrays me; yea, woe upon woe, even unto remorse and agony and death; the chief of sinners, he will also be chief of sufferers; when he sees the full meaning of what he has done, he will sink under the intolerable shame, he will give blood for blood, and be glad to find solace in death.
And if our hearts be moved at all to pitifulness in the review of this case, may we not find somewhat of a redeeming feature in the capacity for suffering so deep and terrible? Shall we be stretching the law of mercy unduly if we see in this self-torment a faint light on the skirts of an appalling cloud? I do not find that Judas professed or manifested any joy in his grim labour; there is no sound of revel or mad hilarity in all the tragic movement; on the contrary, there is a significant absence, so far as we can judge from the narrative, of all the excitement needful for nerving the mischievous man to work out purposes which he knows to be wholly evil. All the while Judas would seem to be under a cloud, to be advancing stealthily rather than boisterously; he was no excited Belshazzar whose brain was aflame with excess of wine though he, too, trembled as if the mystic hand were writing letters of doom upon the old familiar scenes. So excited is he that a word will send him reeling backward to the ground, and if he do not his work "quickly" he will become sick with fear and be incapable of action; as it is, he has only bargained to "kiss" the Victim, not to clutch him with a ruffian's grasp. Then came the intolerable woe!
This great law is at work upon our lives today. Woe unto the unfaithful pastor; woe unto the negligent steward; woe unto the betrayer of sacred interests; woe unto them that call evil good and good evil; to all such be woe; not only the woe of outward judgment divine and inexorable but that, it may be, still keener, sadder woe of self-contempt and self-damnation. With such sorrow no stranger may intermeddle. The lesson to ourselves would seem to be this, Do not regard divine judgment merely as measure for measure in relation to your sin, that is to say, so much penalty for so much guilt; it is more than that it is a quickening of the man into holy resentment against himself, an arming of the conscience against the whole life, a subjective controversy which will not be lulled into unrighteous peace, but will rage wrathfully and implacably until there shall come repentance unto life or remorse unto death. Shall I startle you if I say that there is a still more terrible state than that of such anguish as Iscariot's? To have worn out the moral sense, to have become incapable of pain, to have the conscience seared as with a hot iron, to be "past feeling," that is the consummation of wickedness. That there is a judicial and outward infliction of pain on account of sin, is of course undoubted; but whilst that outward judgment may actually harden the sinner, the bitter woe which comes of a true estimate of sin and of genuine contrition for its enormity may work out a repentance not to be repented of. If, then, any man is suffering the pain of just self-condemnation on account of sin; if any man's conscience is now rising mightily against him and threatening to tear him in pieces before the Lord, because of secret lapses or unholy betrayals, because of long-sustained hypocrisy or self-seeking faithlessness, I will not hurriedly seek to ease the healthy pain the fire will work to his purification, and the Refiner will lose nothing of the gold; but if any man, how eminent soever in ecclesiastical position, knows that he has betrayed the Lord, and conceals under a fair exterior all that Ezekiel saw in the chamber of imagery, and is as a brazen wall against every appeal hard, tearless, impenetrable, unresponsive I do not hesitate to say that I would rather be numbered with Judas than with that man.
"It had been good for that man if he had not been born." Then why was he born? is the question, not of impatient ignorance only, but of a certain moral instinct which God never fails to respect throughout the whole of his intercourse with mankind, and which he will undoubtedly honour in this instance. Take the case as it is ordinarily put: Judas, like the rest of us, had no control over his own birth; he found himself in a world in whose formation he had no share; he was born under circumstances which, as to their literal and local bearing, can never be repeated in all the ages of time. So far as we can gather from the narrative, Jesus spoke to him no word of sympathy, never drew him aside, as he drew Peter, to tell him of preventing prayer, but to all appearance left him to be the blind and helpless instrument of the devil, and then said, "It had been good for that man if he had not been born." This cannot be the full meaning of the words. Instantly we repeat the profound inquiry of Abraham, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" He may, and must, transcend our understanding; he will, by the very nature of the case, dazzle and confound our imagination by the unsuspected riches and glory of his many mansions; but he must not trouble our sense of right if he would retain our homage and our love. Personally, I can have no share in the piety that can see any man condemned under such circumstances as have just been described; it is not enough to tell me that it is some other man and not myself who suffers, a suggestion ineffably mean even if it were true; but it is not true; I do suffer: a tremendous strain is put upon my sensibilities, and I cannot, without anguish, see any man arbitrarily driven into hell. Upon his face, writhing in unutterable torture, is written this appeal, "Can you see me, bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh, thus treated, weighed down, crushed, damned, by a power I am utterly unable either to placate or resist?" That man may be my own father, my own child, my most familiar friend; and though he be a stranger, of name unknown, he has at all events the claim of our common humanity upon me. I have purposely put the case in this strong way, that I may say with the more emphasis that I see no such method of government revealed in the narrative now under consideration. If I saw anything like it in any part of the Word of God, I should say, "My understanding is at fault, not God's justice; from what I know of his method within the scope of my own life, I know and am sure that righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne, and that his mercy endureth for ever." I see things that are mysterious, incomprehensible, baffling; I come upon scriptures which utterly defy all scholars and interpreters; but this is the confidence that I have "The Judge of all the earth will do right." As to the particular expression in the text, two things may be said: first, it is well known that the Jews were in the habit of saying, "It had been good for that man had he not been born," it was a common expression of the day, in speaking of transgressors, and did not by any means imply a belief in the final destruction or damnation of the person spoken of; and secondly, this passage has again and again exactly expressed our own feeling in many crises of our own life: it must be for ever true that non-existence is better than sinfulness. When the lie was on our lips, when part of the price was laid down as the whole, when we dishonoured the vow we made in secret with God, when we rolled iniquity under our tongue as a sweet morsel, at that time it had been good for us if we had not been born. Such, indeed, is the only form of words equal to the gravity of the occasion; better we say, again and again, not to have been born than to have done this; if this be the end of our being, then has our life been a great failure and a mortal pain. I hold that these words were spoken not so much of Judas the man as of Judas the sinner, and that consequently they apply to all evil-doers throughout all generations, and are in reality the most tender and pathetic admonition which even Christ could address to the slaves of sin.
We may get some light upon this expression by considering the fact that "it repented the Lord that he had made man." In studying all such passages we must have regard to the order of time. St. Paul said, "If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable; " so, if we break off our own life at certain points, we shall say the same thing of ourselves, and if we interrupt human history, so that one fact shall not be allowed to explain another, it would be easy to find sections which would prove alike the disorder and malignity of the divine government. We know what this means in some of the works of our own hands. Thus, for example: You undertook to build a house for the Lord, and your heart was full of joy as you saw the sacred walls rising in your hopeful dreams; but when you came to work out your purpose you came upon difficulty after difficulty, promises were broken, contracts were trifled with, the very stars in their courses seemed to fight against you, and at length, after many disappointments and exasperations, you said, "It repents me; it gives me pain, it grieves me, that I began this house." Such is the exact state of your feeling at that particular moment. But other influences were brought to bear upon the situation, resources equal to the difficulty were developed, and when the roof covered the walls, and the spire shot up into the clouds, you forgot your pains and tears in a great satisfaction. You will say that God foresaw all the difficulty of building the living temple of manhood, that the whole case was clearly before him from eternity; that is, of course, true, but the pain of ingratitude is none the less keen because the ingratitude itself was foreknown. Take the case of Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, as an illustration; he foresaw all the triumphs of his Cross all heaven thronged with innumerable multitudes out of every kindred and people and tongue yet he prayed that the cup might pass from him, and he needed an angel to help him in the time of his soul's sorrow. In magnifying God's omniscience we must not overlook God's love; nothing, indeed, could surprise his foreknowledge, yet it grieved him at the heart that he had made man; and he called upon the heavens to hear, and upon the earth to be astonished, because his children had rebelled against him!
"This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein." It is more to the credit of the apostles themselves that this should be regarded as an after-thought than as an undoubted conviction, or an established fact, at the time that Judas sat with them at the Paschal Supper, or even at the time that he asked why the ointment was not sold for the benefit of the poor. This is the more evident from the fact that the writer indicates Judas as the betrayer, whereas at the moment of the test his identity was not established. There is no mystery about the insertion of this explanatory suggestion, for we all know how easy it is after a character has fully revealed itself to go back upon its separate acts and account for them by their proper motives motives unknown at the time of the action, but plainly proved by subsequent revelations of character. This was probably the case in the instance before us, else why did the disciples allow Judas to keep the bag? Why did they not humble and exhaust him by an incessant protest against his dishonesty? And why did not our Lord, instead of mildly expostulating, say to Judas as he once said to Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan"? Here, then, is a great law within whose operation we ourselves may be brought, the law of reading the part in the light of the whole, and of judging the isolated act by the standard of the complete character. Illustrations of the working of this law will occur to you instantly. Let a man eventually reveal himself as having unworthily filled prominent positions in the Church let his character be proved to have been corrupt, and then see what light is thrown upon words and deeds which at the time were not fully understood. How abundant then will be such expressions as these in recounting his utterances:
"He advised prudence and care and very great caution in working out Church plans; he counselled concentration; he deprecated romantic schemes: this he did (as we now can see), not that he was a lover of Prudence or a worshipper of Wisdom, but because he was a thief, and he feared that bold and noble schemes would shame him into reluctant generosity."
"He urged that the church should be built with the least possible decoration or ornament; he spoke strongly against coloured glass and elaborate enrichment: and this he did (as we can now see), not that he was devoted to Simplicity or absorbed in spiritual aspiration, but because he was a thief, and feared that every block of polished marble would increase the sum which his respectability would be expected to subscribe."
"He denounced all heretical tendencies in the Christian ministry; he knew heterodoxy afar off; he never ceased to declare himself in favour of what he supposed to be the Puritan. theology: and this he did, not that in his heart of hearts he cared for the conservation of orthodoxy, but because he was a thief, and had a felonious intent upon the reputation of independent thinkers whose shoe's latchet he was not worthy to unloose."
All this comes out after a man has revealed himself as Judas did. But let me also say that the "thief" may be dictating our speech even when we least suspect it, certainly where there may never be such a disclosure as there was in the case of Judas. There are conditions under which we hardly know what influence it is that colours our judgment and suggests our course, may it not be the "thief" thus underlies our consciousness, and so cunningly touches our life as never to excite our suspicion or our fear? We know how subtle are the workings of self-deception, and perhaps even the godliest of us would be surprised to know exactly the inspiration of some of our most fervent speeches, surprised to find that though the outward orator seemed to be an earnest man, the inner and invisible speaker is the "thief" that prompted Judas! Who, then, can stand before the Lord, or be easy in the presence of his holy law? It is under such inquiries that the strongest man quails, and that the swiftest of God's messengers humbly prays, "Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord; for in thy sight shall no flesh living be justified."
"Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?" (Matthew 26:14 , Matthew 26:15 .) Why should there have been any bargaining, or why should there have been any difficulty, about the arrest of Christ? We must look to an earlier verse for the solution. The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders, had met for consultation in the palace of the high priest, Caiaphas, and the principal question was, not how they might take Jesus, but how they might take him "by subtilty," by craft, deceit, guile, as if they would have secretly murdered him if they could, murdered him in the darkness, and in the morning have wiped their mouths as innocent men! Judas would appear to have gone to them secretly, and offered himself as one who knew the haunts and times and methods of Christ; and in doing so he showed the weak and vicious side of his nature, his covetousness, his greed, his love of money, and herein his guilt seems to culminate in an aggravation infernal and unpardonable. But are we ourselves verily clear in this matter? Are we not every day selling Christ to the highest bidder? When we stifle our convictions lest we should lose a morsel of bread; when we are dumb in the presence of the enemy lest our words should be followed by loss of domestic comfort or personal honour; when we soften our speech, or hide the Cross, or join in ungodly laughter that we may avoid an ungodly sneer, we are doing in our own way the very thing which we rightly condemn in the character of Judas.
"Then Judas which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood: and he cast down the silver pieces in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself" ( Mat 27:3-5 ). Is there not a tone in these words with which we are familiar? Is there not, indeed, something of our own voice in this mournful story? Let us look at it carefully:
"When he saw," that, at least, is familiar! Not until our actions are set a little off do we see all their relations and all their meaning; in their progress we are too near them to get their full effect; if we take but one step back we shall be affrighted by the very actions of which the doing gave us a kind of frenzied joy. We make our own ghosts. We shut the eyes of our minds whilst we are doing certain things; and when the last touch is given to the deed, we are taught by the bitterness of experience that Temptation destroys our sight and that Guilt restores it. Recall the case of Adam and Eve, "And the eyes of them both were opened!" Very short and cloudy is the sight of the body: how keen, how piercing, is the sight of a self-convicted soul! Before that discerning vision the air is full of eyes, and the clearest of all days is dark with menaces and gathering thunders.
"When he saw that he was condemned." At that moment the surprise of Judas himself was supreme and unutterable: evidently he did not expect that this catastrophe would supervene; he may, indeed, have said to himself as a man of inventive and daring mind would be likely to say I am quite sure, from what I have seen of his miracles, that he will prove himself more than a match for all his enemies; he has done so before, and he will do it again. They said they would cast him down from the brow of the hill, but he went through the midst of them like a beam of light, and when they took up stones to stone him their hands were held fast by that strong will of his. He has provoked them to their face, heaped up all their sins before them, taunted and goaded them to madness, and yet he held them in check and played with them as he listed. It will be so again; besides, he may just want a plan like mine to bring things to a point; I will put him into the hands of these men, then will he shake them off, proclaim his kingdom, drive away the spoiler from the land of the Hebrews, and we shall come into the enjoyment of our promised reward. Judas may not have used these words, but in effect they are being used by sinners every day! This is the universal tongue of self-deception, varying a little, it may be, in the accent, but in substance the same all the world over; a putting of one thing against another, a balancing of probabilities, an exercise of self-outwitting cunning; a secret hope that something can be snatched out of the fire, and that the flames can be subdued without undue damage, this is the method of sinfulness of heart, a method confounded every day by the hand of God, yet every day coming up again to fresh attempts and renewed humiliations.
"When he saw that he was condemned he repented himself." Is there not hope of a man who is capable of any degree of repentance, even when repentance takes upon itself the darker shade of horror and remorse? I know what the word is which is translated "repented," and I remember with joy that it is the word which is used of the son who said he would not go, and afterwards repented and went; it is the word which Paul used of himself on one occasion in writing to the Corinthians. But even if the word be rendered "was filled with remorse and shame and despair," I should say, "So much the better for Judas." Under such circumstances I should have more hope of a man who had absolutely no hope of himself, than of a man who could sufficiently control himself to think that even such a sin infinite in wickedness as it must have appeared to his own mind could ever be forgiven. It is easy for us who never experienced the agony to say what Judas ought to have done: how he ought to have wept and prayed and sought forgiveness as we now should seek it. We cannot intermeddle with his sorrow, nor ought we harshly to judge the method of his vengeance.
"I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood." Not, "I was hurried into this by others"; not, "Others are as much to blame as I am"; but, "I did it, and I alone." Not, "I have made a mistake"; not, "This is a great error on my part"; but, "I have sinned," the very word which he might have heard in his Lord's parable of the Prodigal Son, the word which our Father in heaven delights to hear! "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, for his mercy endureth for ever." "If thy brother turn again, saying, I repent, forgive him;" Judas repented himself! "How often shall I forgive him? Seven times. Seventy times seven!" And shall I forgive him the less because his repentance has deepened into remorse, and he has lost all hope of himself? Surely the more on that very account. And if he slay himself because of his sin against me? Then must I think of him with still tenderer pity, nor cloud his memory with a single suspicion. And here let me say, as to the spiritual application of this matter, I have no faith in the moral value of fine-drawn distinctions between repentance and despair; my belief is that until we reach the point of self-despair as to our sin against Christ, we can never know the true meaning or realise the true joy of repentance. That Judas should have slain himself with his own hand is, in my view of the case, wholly in his favour. It must have appeared to him, indeed, to be the only course open to him; floods of tears he could never set against the blood of an innocent man; to cry and moan and weep bitterly, would be just to aggravate the appalling crime. With a stronger light beating on our life than ever Judas was permitted to enjoy, guarded by all the restraints of Christian civilisation, living under the ministry of the Holy Ghost, we are by so much unable to sympathise with the intolerant horror which destroyed the self-control of the betrayer of our Lord. So far as I can think myself back into the mental condition of Judas, his suicide seems to me to be the proper completion of his insufferable self-reproach. And yet that self-control was preserved long enough to enable Judas Iscariot to utter the most effective and precious eulogium ever pronounced upon the character of Jesus Christ. How brief, how simple, how complete "innocent blood"! If the proper interpretation of words is to be found, as it undoubtedly is, in circumstances, then these two words are fuller in meaning and tenderer in pathos than the most laboured encomium could possibly be. Consider the life which preceded these words, and you will see that they may be amplified thus: "I know Jesus better than any of you can know him. You have only seen him in public, I have lived with him in private; I have watched his words as words of man were never watched before; I have heard his speeches meant for his disciples alone; I have seen him in poverty, weariness, and pain of heart; I have heard his prayers at home; I trusted that it had been he who would have redeemed Israel from patriotic servility; I curse myself, I exonerate him, his is innocent blood!" How glad would the Jews have been if Christ had been witnessed against by one of his own disciples! They would have welcomed his evidence; no gold could have adequately paid for testimony so direct and important; and Judas loved gold. Yet the holy truth came uppermost; Judas died, not with a lie in his right hand, but with the word of truth upon his lips, and the name of Christ was thus saved from what might have been its deepest wound.
"Those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition." At the first glance these words would seem to put the fate of Judas Iscariot beyond all controversy, yet further consideration may show how mercy may magnify itself even in this cloud. Judas is called "the son of perdition"; true, and Peter himself was called Satan by the same Lord. And if Judas was "the son of perdition," what does Paul say of all mankind? Does he not say, "We are by nature the children of wrath, even as others"? But in this case "the son of perdition" is said to be "lost"; but does the word "lost" necessarily imply that he was in hell? "We have all erred and strayed like lost sheep"; "The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost"; and, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth [Judas repented himself], more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance." It is our joy to believe that wherever repentance is possible, mercy is possible; and it is heaven to us to know that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. And are we quite sure that there is no ray of hope falling upon the repentant and remorseful Judas from such words as these, "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me [and that he gave him Iscariot is clear from the very passage we are now considering] I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day" ( Joh 6:39 )? But there is still more light to be thrown on this great gloom. Take this passage ( Joh 18:8-9 ), "Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way; that the saying might be fulfilled which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me I have lost none." Now suppose that the ruffians had answered, "No, we will not let these go their way; we will slay them with the sword at once," would it follow that Jesus Christ had lost his disciples in the sense of their having been destroyed in unquenchable fire? The suggestion is not to be entertained for a moment; yet this is the very "saying" which is supposed to determine the damnation of Judas! As I read the whole history I cannot but feel that our Lord was specially wishful that his disciples should continue with him throughout his temptation, should watch with him, that in some way, hardly to be expressed in words, they should help him by the sympathy of their presence, in this sense he was anxious to "lose none"; but he did lose the one into whom Satan had entered, and he refers to him not so much for his own sake as that he may rejoice the more in the constancy of those who remained. But the whole reference, as it seems to me, is not to the final and eternal state of men in the unseen world, but to continuance and steadfastness in relation to a given crisis,
"This ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place" ( Act 1:25 ). One reputable scholar has suggested that the words "go to his own place" may refer to Matthias, and not to Judas; but the suggestion does not commend itself to my judgment. I think we should lose a good deal by accepting this interpretation. I hold that this is an instance of exquisite delicacy on the part of Peter: no judgment is pronounced; the fall is spoken of only as official and as involving official results, and the sinner himself is left in the hands of God. It is in this spirit that Peter speaks of Judas,
Such a study as this can hardly fail to be fruitful of suggestion to the nominal followers of Christ in all ages. What are its lessons to ourselves, to ourselves as Christians, ministers office-bearers, and stewards of heavenly mysteries?
(1) Our first lesson will be found in the fact that when our Lord said to his disciples, "One of you shall betray me," every one of them began to say "Is it I?" Instead of being shocked even to indignation, each of the disciples put it to himself as, a possibility; "It may be I. Lord, is it I?" This is the right spirit in which to hold all our privileges. We should regard it as a possibility that the strongest may fail, and even the oldest may betray his trust. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Do you suppose that there was but one betrayal of the Lord once for all, and that the infamous crime can never be repeated? "I tell you, nay!" There are predictions yet to be realised "There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them;" "Lord, is it I?" It shall surely be more tolerable for Judas Iscariot in the day of judgment than for that man! Living in the light of gospel day; professing to have received the Holy Ghost; ordained as a minister of the Cross; holding office in the Christian Church is it impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, seeing that they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame? "Lord, is it I?" "In the last days perilous times shall come: men shall be traitors;" "Lord, is it I?" Governing our life by this self-misgiving spirit, not thinking all men sinful but ourselves, we shall be saved from the boastfulness which is practical blasphemy, and our energy shall be kept from fanaticism by the chastening influence of self-doubt. Looking upon all the mighty men who have made shipwreck of faith and a good conscience Adam, Saul, Solomon, Judas let us be careful lest after having preached to others we ourselves should be cast away. It is true that we cannot repeat the literal crime of Judas; but there are greater enormities than his! We can outdo Judas in sin I "Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come" ( Mat 12:32 ). We cannot sell the body, but we can grieve the Spirit. There can be no more covenanting over the Lord's bones, but we can plunge a keener spear into his heart than that which drew forth blood and water from his side; we cannot nail him to the accursed tree, but we can pierce him through with many sorrows. Judas died by the vengeance of his own hand; of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy who hath done despite unto the Spirit of Grace? Judas shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, because when he saw the error of his ways he repented himself, and made restitution of his unholy gains; but we have rolled iniquity under our tongue as a sweet morsel, we have held our places in the sanctuary while our heart has been the habitation of the enemy!
(2) Our second lesson is a caution against mere intellectual sagacity in directing the affairs of the Christian kingdom. It is admitted on all hands that Judas Iscariot was far ahead of the other apostles in many intellectual qualities, yet "Judas by transgression fell." How self-controlled he was; how stealthy was his step; how lingering and watchful his cunning! And if Whately and De Quincey be right in the suggestion that he merely wanted to force the Lord to declare himself the Prince of princes and make Israel glad by despoiling the oppressor, it discovers the instinct of statesmanship, and shows how his strategic ambition sought to ensnare the Roman fowler in his own net. Judas is supposed to have reasoned thus with himself: This Jesus is he who will redeem Israel; the whole twelve of us think so; yet he hesitates, for some reason we cannot understand. His power is astounding, his life is noble. This will I do, I will bring things to a crisis by going to the authorities and making them an offer. I believe they will snatch at my proposition, and when they come to work it out he will smite them with his great power, and will avenge the insult by establishing his supremacy as King and Lord of Israel. As a matter of fact we know that this kind of reasoning has played no small part in the history of the Church. The spiritual kingdom of Christ has suffered severely at the hands of men who have been proud of their own diplomacy and generalship; men fond of elaborating intricate organisations, of playing one influence against another, and of making up for the slowness of time by dramatic surprises alike of sympathy and collision. It is for this reason that I cannot view without alarm the possible misuse of congresses, conferences, unions, and councils: these institutions will only be of real service to the cause of the Cross in proportion as spiritual influence is supreme. Once let political sagacity, diplomatic ingenuity, and official adroitness in the management of details become unduly valued, and you change the centre of gravity, and bring the Church into imminent peril. Unquestionably human nature loves dexterity, and will pay high prices for all kinds of conjuring, and loudly applaud the hero who does apparent impossibilities; and from this innate love of mere cleverness may come betrayals, compromises, and casuistries, which crucify the Son of God afresh. Judas looked to the end to vindicate if not to sanctify the means; and this is the policy of all dexterous managers, the very soul of Jesuitry, and a chosen instrument of the devil. I do not pray for a leader, fertile in resource, supple and prompt in movement; my prayer is for a man of another stamp, even for an Inspirer, who, by the ardour of his holiness, the keenness of his spiritual insight, and the unction of his prayer, shall help us truthward and heavenward; and under his leadership we shall hear no more about secularities and temporalities, but every action the opening of the doors and the lighting of the lamps of the sanctuary shall be done by hands which were first outstretched in prayer. Not the crafty Judas, but the loving John will help us best in all our work; not the man inexhaustible in tricks of management, but the man of spiritual intelligence and fervour, will deliver us most successfully in the time of straits and dangers. Managers, leaders, draughtsmen, and pioneers, we shall of course never cease to want, and their abilities will always be of high value to every good cause; yet one thing is needful above all others closeness to the dear Lord, and daily continuance in prayer.
Almighty God, we are gathered around thy Son in his humblest form, and we wish to hear every word that may be spoken by the voice of his heart The traitor has gone out, so now we may hear the music of love the inner word which traitors may not hear. They have gone out into the night to be lost in the darkness they love; but here we tarry in the morning, in the summer glow, and we are all bending forward to listen to the sweet Gospel voice, full of love, full of hope, so gentle a voice, hastening, as it were, to its own death to rise again in trumpets and thunders of sovereignty and power. But we will hear its lesser tone, we will listen to the gentler speech; we will listen with our hearts. Speak, Lord, for thy servants hear! We are tired of all other voices; we would purge our ears of all inferior sounds; and if thou wilt circumcise our ears, we shall hear, and nothing shall escape our adoring and grateful attention. Our hearts need thy voice: they are lone and weary and full of troubling wonder; yea, they are often sore afraid. They need to hear the voice from the great light, saying, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." The voice is comfort, the call brings with it great strength in every tone, the battle is already won; whilst our Master speaks to us we rise like men enriched with answered prayer. We love thy tabernacles, thou God of Zion; our souls have a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord. There we find great liberty; there we spread out our whole strength no fold that is not rolled out to its fullest length; there we eat and drink abundantly; there the high festival of thy love makes us forget all weight, all burden. We are thine, bought with blood, sanctified by the Holy Ghost, made meet by thy grace to be partakers of the inheritance of life. We would know to whom we belong: we would see thy signature written upon our life, we Would feel thy claim in our hearts urging us by sweetest persuasion of love to do some nobler deed. Thou hast led us to despise time and the earth, and all things we can see, when compared with the eternity of heaven and invisible realities. Thou dost train us by our impatience; our being kept so long outside the door that opens back upon the heavens is itself an education. We knock, and are not answered; we wait, and there is no reply; we linger through the night and are wet with heavy dews, still the door is not opened from within; but we wait, we still continue, we cannot go away; our standing at heaven's gate helps us to do earth's weary work. We have come to make many speeches to thee, because our hearts are many and our histories a great number. Hear the plaint of the sad and those who are ill at ease disappointed men, vexed and troubled hearts, souls that love right, and wish evermore to walk in the light, and yet are hindered by those who ought to help them; men of feeble will, whose prayers break right off in the middle and fall down to earth again, who wish to do right and feel as if they could not, who put out their hand to the altar and quickly let it fall; men who are full of concern about health and business and domestic affairs and success and ability to live honestly in the sight of all men things will not come right; if they are put right overnight, they are all wrong in the morning. These men are full of trouble, and they are like to fret themselves to do evil. The Lord have pity upon them and put an end to their vexation, lest it become a stumbling-block over which they fall and never can rise again. Thou dost train us by a way that is often weary. Our eyes are vexed by the prosperity of the wicked; our souls are full of wonder because they are not in trouble like other men. We cannot understand their fatness, their abundance of gold, and the innumerableness of their cattle; but thou hast surely set them in slippery places, and presently the tremendous solution will begin. We commit one another to thy care. Draw us closer to thyself; speak as we are able to bear it; adapt the light to our vision, and when we would pray, let thy Spirit work mightily within us; teach the heart great words to express great desires. Qualify us every day for broader service, for more patient suffering, for deeper and more loving obedience; and when the little flame of life's short day dies down and goes from human eyes quite spark out, may our souls hail thee in heaven's eternal morning! Amen.
Almighty God, we are gathered around thy Son in his humblest form, and we wish to hear every word that may be spoken by the voice of his heart. The traitor has gone out, so now we may hear the music of love the inner word which traitors may not hear. They have gone out into the night to be lost in the darkness they love; but here we tarry in the morning, in the summer glow, and we are all bending forward to listen to the sweet Gospel voice, full of love, full of hope, so gentle a voice, hastening, as it were, to its own death to rise again in trumpets and thunders of sovereignty and power. But we will hear its lesser tone, we will listen to the gentler speech; we will listen with our hearts. Speak, Lord, for thy servants hear! We are tired of all other voices; we would purge our ears of all inferior sounds; and if thou wilt circumcise our ears, we shall hear, and nothing shall escape our adoring and grateful attention. Our hearts need thy voice: they are lone and weary and full of troubling wonder; yea, they are often sore afraid. They need to hear the voice from the great light, saying, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." The voice is comfort, the call brings with it great strength in every tone, the battle is already won; whilst our Master speaks to us we rise like men enriched with answered prayer. We love thy tabernacles, thou God of Zion; our souls have a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord. There we find great liberty; there we spread out our whole strength no fold that is not rolled out to its fullest length; there we eat and drink abundantly; there the high festival of thy love makes us forget all weight, all burden. We are thine, bought with blood, sanctified by the Holy Ghost, made meet by thy grace to be partakers of the inheritance of life. We would know to whom we belong: we would see thy signature written upon our life, we would feel thy claim in our hearts urging us by sweetest persuasion of love to do some nobler deed. Thou hast led us to despise time and the earth, and all things we can see, when compared with the eternity of heaven and invisible realities. Thou dost train us by our impatience; our being kept so long outside the door that opens back upon the heavens is itself an education. We knock, and are not answered; we wait, and there is no reply; we linger through the night and are wet with heavy dews, still the door is not opened from within; but we wait, we still continue, we cannot go away; our standing at heaven's gate helps us to do earth's weary work. We have come to make many speeches to thee, because our hearts are many and our histories a great number. Hear the plaint of the sad and those who are ill at ease disappointed men, vexed and troubled hearts, souls that love right, and wish evermore to walk in the light, and yet are hindered by those who ought to help them; men of feeble will, whose prayers break right off in the middle and fall down to earth again, who wish to do right and feel as if they could not, who put out their hand to the altar and quickly let it fall; men who are full of concern about health and business and domestic affairs and success and ability to live honestly in the sight of all men things will not come right; if they are put right overnight, they are all wrong in the morning. These men are full of trouble, and they are like to fret themselves to do evil. The Lord have pity upon them and put an end to their vexation, lest it become a stumbling-block over which they fall and never can rise again. Thou dost train us by a way that is often weary. Our eyes are vexed by the prosperity of the wicked; our souls are full of wonder because they are not in trouble like other men. We cannot understand their fatness, their abundance of gold, and the innumerableness of their cattle; but thou hast surely set them in slippery places, and presently the tremendous solution will begin. We commit one another lo thy care. Draw us closer to thyself; speak as we are able to bear it; adapt the light to our vision, and when we would pray, let thy Spirit work mightily within us; teach the heart great words to express great desires. Qualify us every day for broader service, for more patient suffering, for deeper and more loving obedience; and when the little flame of life's short day lies down and goes from human eyes quite spark out, may our souls hail thee in heaven's eternal morning! Amen.
Not Now, But Afterwards
The whole verse reads thus: "Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards." Children will have everything now: "afterwards" is a word that plagues them. It is a most mocking word: it points to a time that can never come: it may be tomorrow, or next year; but whether to morrow or next year, it lies beyond the vision and beyond the range of the little grasping hand. As life advances we become more intimately acquainted with the word "afterwards," and, indeed, we come to like it. As for time, it is nothing: we begin to touch the meaning of the august expression, "A thousand years are as one day." We know that nothing is so near as the future; we know that yesterday is gone beyond recall, and that tomorrow is always coming and is always available. It is the mystery and the charm of this little life. How throughout the whole of this chapter Jesus Christ is Lord and Master! The title fills the whole chapter, gives nobleness to all the Divine speeches, covers with tender radiance all the interviews which Jesus Christ conducts on this day of shadows with his wonder-struck and fear-troubled disciples. It is a master's tone delivered with a brother's heart and voice which says, "Not now, but afterwards." This is the second time in the chapter that Jesus Christ has said the same thing to the same man. Simon Peter was never more impatient than within the lines of this chapter. Said he, "What is the meaning of this feet-washing? I do not know what thou doest"; and the answer was: "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Then again he comes before us: "Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards." So this child-man was constantly put back and told to wait till the clock struck and the hour had Come when he should have the keener vision, the more sensitive heart, the more receptive spirit and understanding mind. This was the training Peter needed: Peter was a man who wanted everything to be done instantaneously.; there must be no waiting; tomorrow must contrive to push itself into this day, and everything which the impatient heart desired must be supplied the moment the desire was expressed. The Lord, knowing this, always said to him, "Not now," that most vexing and teasing word. We want it now; we could do well with it now; it seems to us as if this were the very time to have it; and when we are in that high blood mad with impatience he quietly, with sovereignly tone, says, "Not now." He says it as from a throne, there is no halting or incertitude in his way of saying it; at first he taught with authority, and not as the scribes, and now, the shadows gathering around him quickly into darkest night, he still speaks with the authority which at first made him conspicuous. This is a grand doctrine; who can receive it? We have to be drilled into it; patience of this kind is not born in us. Blessed be God, we can be chastened and mellowed into the reception of the doctrine that afterwards is greater than now, and that not to have an afterwards is to be imprisoned and impoverished. Jesus Christ lived in tomorrow; early in his ministry he said, "Hereafter ye shall see."
Look at this in the direction of revelation. We cannot follow any great Scriptural doctrine now in all the range of its thought, in all the scope of its imagination, in all the possibilities of its issues. Who can explain the Atonement? The angels desire to look into it; the Voice from above says, "Not now, but afterwards." We begin in the right spirit when we begin in the spirit of waiting. Personally, I accept the Cross, but cannot explain it; personally, I need the Atonement by a necessity for which there are no words, but which presses upon my heart with all the gnawing agony of hunger. It cannot tell the quality of the blood, the measure of the oblation, the efficacy of the sacrifice. It is called "precious blood," it is called "self-sacrifice": the words dimly hint to me a meaning very gracious and comforting; what they imply in all the compass of their thought I know not now, but shall know afterwards. Is there then an afterwards for me, a higher school, a brighter day. additional facilities, closer intercourse with things and spirits and forces Divine? To be assured of that is to know the meaning of the mystery, "Death is abolished."
Or look at the same doctrine in relation to the mysteries of daily providence. "Thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards," the direction not being from one locality to another, from one point of space to another, but a following in thought, purpose, meaning, and sovereign decree a mighty flying after God, a keeping up pari passu with the great Walker, whose way is in the whirlwind and in the cloud. I limp now, halt and stagger and fall and half rise again and am down before I can straighten myself; I cannot follow, except in the dim, far distance now, but afterward . We want to know why we were made as we are so singular, constituted so mysteriously, with a will so easily led, with passions so instantly ignited, with dispositions now rising upwards, now flinging downwards, with a life that seems all forms; why not have been made otherwise, dear Lord, with stronger wills, with tenderer hearts, without perversity, without selfishness? And the Voice says, "Not now, but afterwards shalt thou know." This individuality is a heavy burden; this personal secret of the Almighty, which every man carries in his heart, is a most tormenting fire. An explanation will help us to bear it. To think that if we had been just otherwise made, in some line or curve of being, with an additional element, with a certain quality that is omitted from our constitution, we should have prayed ourselves into answers and have lifted ourselves by the power of intercession into the temple where there are no clouds, no nights, but where the interviews are face to face with hand locked in hand. We want to know why; it would comfort us to have some hint of meaning, and the only reply we can elicit is "Not now, but afterwards." Why this suffering? Who did sin, I or my parents, that this burden is laid upon me a burden for which I have certainly no light and certainly no strength? But for it, I could fly; with it, I am buried every day. What a life would yours be but for the one thing that enters the soul like iron! Old age could never touch you but for one thing. It is that that one thing that takes the erectness out of your figure, and makes your hair white in a night, and ploughs your cheeks into great furrows through which the tear rivers roll. A hundred times have I heard you say, "But for that I could sleep soundly all night, and be cheerful all day; the eating of bread would be a sacrament and the going out of the house an eager hastening to fight for God and the truth; why should I have had this chain upon my feet, this manacle upon my hand, this black night shadow bound round my poor eyes? Why?" And the answer is: "Not now, but afterwards." "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."
There cannot be an afterwards of revelation unless there is a now of obedience. The now is not evacuated of all meaning, stripped of all urgency, and turned into a blank nothing; now has its agony, now has its immediate fight. To obey in the darkness is the great thing. Were I to say, "I will trust God in the seventh trouble because he has delivered me in six," I should be saying something hardly worth saying. There is a subtle selfishness in that verbal piety; there is a most suspicious selfishness about that reasoning, though it sounds so holy. Hear it: "He hath delivered me in six troubles, and in seven he will be with me." The testimony in itself is good, and is sincere, because it is historically true and is meant to be full of solace from the historical side; but do not make too much of it as a test of growth in grace. Who then has grown in grace? This man who says, "Though he slay me, yet will I put my trust in him." That is faith. If you tell me that you have been so reduced, that you know not how to turn, and at the very moment of extremity light appeared and deliverance was wrought out, and therefore you intend to hope even under similar circumstances, your speech within narrow limits is perfectly good; it is a most valid testimony, but it is no necessary sign of growth in grace. This I want to be able to say: "I have nothing, I know not in what direction to turn, and if nothing should remain nothing, my hymn shall still be sung; though the fig-tree shall not blossom I don't say, though there be a late harvest of figs, but though the fig-tree shall not blossom I will be as pious as ever." That is growing in grace, that is maturity in the life Divine, and that is the lesson which we learn now; the afterwards is not in that particular lesson: it is the agony, the stinging fire of the immediate moment. How many persons make a deep mistake here! They think they are pious because, having been delivered out of six troubles, they feel sure they will be delivered out of the seventh. That may be a species of profanity; on the other hand, it may be the testimony of a grateful heart. But this is piety to have nothing in the right hand, nothing in the left, nothing in the world, and then not to pray, which is a beggar's attitude, but to sing, which is a child's and a prince's posture. This is the miracle of God; this is the ideal attainment. We are bound to keep it steadily before our dazzling eyes; we count not ourselves to have attained: far from it; but this one thing we do we press toward the mark. We know our selfishness better than any other men know it, and we mourn it, but seem as if we could not get rid of it; yet the grace of God is equal to this miracle. So, whilst we pray, we will sing; and whilst we mourn, we will also hope.
Obedience now is revelation afterward. We shall know if we follow on to know. He that doeth the will shall know of the doctrine. Obedience is preparation for revelation. Blessed is that servant who shall be found watching, waiting, when his Lord cometh; verily, I say unto you, he will put keys into that servant's hand, and call him to honour, and sit him in inner places, and make a son of him. "Mine, then, is a drudging life." Be it so. "I have to keep beating at this door so no sign of opening." No matter. "The Lord told me to knock, and here I am knocking, knocking, knocking; I want to fly, but he says, 'Knock'; I want to go inside, and hold festival with the angels, but he tells me to knock." Obedience prepares the mind for revelation, takes out of that revelation trie light that would dazzle the spirit's vision, and prepares the heart to receive wider demonstrations of the sovereignty and grace of God. We must be blind three days before we begin to see the outlines of things; we must lie down as blind, helpless creatures, simply and lovingly waiting for any prophet God may send to us to open our eyes and teach us our first lesson in the higher alphabet. This does not suit us: we want to walk more quickly, pass on, because we are measuring time by a false chronometer. We do not know the joy which is laid up for us in complete obedience to the word, "Stand still and see the salvation of God." There is marvellous graciousness in a gradual revelation. If "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day," it is because his spiritual education is imaged by that same fair symbol. The next piece of knowledge comes easily. Were the child to be compelled to overleap seven years of the process of education, and to commence a lesson which lies seven years ahead of the page he is reading today, he would be overcome with fear, and no strength would be left in him. What the child has to do is to read the next line, and then to turn over the next page. What we, as Christian students, have to do is to keep to the present truth, obey the immediate duty, do the work that lies next and easily to hand; and then the revelation will, so to say, steal upon us, and then encompass us without the violence of haste and without the unrest of surprise. We cannot tell how the light grows in the heavens. In the morning it is seed-time, and at noonday the harvest fields of the firmament are white with an abundance of result; hardly is the morning seed-time past than the noontide harvest is ripe. So in mental illumination and in spiritual culture and growth. We shall know when we receive our last accession of truth. God's accessions are known by various names sometimes by the starting up in the mind of a distinct fact; sometimes by the gift of an impression; sometimes by the prick of a new impulse; sometimes by the glow of a new ambition; sometimes by a mysterious, profound, all-calming peace. But when the accession comes be it under this name or under that, the great fire, shocks of whirlwind, tumults of thunder, or a still small voice we shall have no doubt about its identity. Divinity cannot be successfully imitated.