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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
John 8

 

 

Verses 1-59

John 8:3-11

"And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No Prayer of Manasseh , Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more."

The Convicted Woman

In such an act did the power, the love, or the wisdom predominate? As well ask which colour predominates in the rainbow: they all blend into one arch of beauty.

Would we see Jesus in his most fascinating charms? Then we must look at him as he stands face to face with a notorious sinner. That face of his never lightens into such a glory as when it looks upon the darkness of penitent guilt.

This incident suggests four lessons:—

(1) It is possible to take an interest in social crime merely for the purposes of religious partisanship. Did these scribes and Pharisees care one tittle for the spirituality and sanctity of the law? When they found this poor unhappy creature, did their hearts bleed with pity, or their eyes dissolve in tenderness, or did they say with the sorrow of a great disappointment, Alas! our poor sister has been overmatched by the enemy of Prayer of Manasseh , and we must save her from the pit on whose brink she lies? Not a word of it! Not a tear stained their eyes—not a pang of pity quivered in their steel breasts—their humanity was eaten up by their pompous and zealous bigotry. They looked at her through the medium of the stern law, on the one hand, and on the other regarded her as a practical puzzle for the revolutionary Teacher. They took an interest in criminals, indeed, but their interest was a stroke in business, a defence of policy, a blow of progress. I allude to this department of the story with special emphasis, in order to denounce a most pretentious and rotten philanthropy. There are men who find their meat and their drink in criminal statistics. They are most industrious in collecting facts—in visiting gaols, hospitals, workhouses, and penitentiaries—in cross-examining prisoners, paupers, and refugees—with what intent? What is the meaning of all this industry? I judge no man; but I do urge that it is perfectly possible to do all this, to earn the reputation of a great philanthropist, and yet all the while to be using all the facts merely for the purpose of entangling and frustrating the representatives of a wider and diviner creed. These scribes and Pharisees acted as though they were glad of having found a rare example of crime, which they could use as a test of Messiah"s morality. It was an opportunity not to be lost. It was a trap which must be skilfully set. It was an occasion which might lead on to victory. Now, it is worth while inquiring whether our interest in criminals and crime is really the expression of a piteous and yearning philanthropy, or whether we encourage it merely for the purpose of maintaining and illustrating some favourite theory? Are we naturalists, going forth to the mountains and dales for the purpose of collecting a museum of curiosities? Are we a kind of geologic moralists, digging into deep strata that we may find unusual specimens? Are we sportsmen who delight in capturing game, that we may nail to the hall door the memorials of our triumphs? Or do we, like the blessed Philanthropist, our Lord and Saviour, go forth "to seek and to save the lost," to lift up the downcast, and turn the wanderer into the right way? Let us guard against a lifeless and tearless philanthropy; let us dread the day when we can look on crime with eyes which glisten only because our favourite hypothesis is maintained; let us remember that it is one thing to be the policemen of the Church, bringing in poor prisoners for judgment, and another to be like him who wept and bled that prisoners might be free. Philanthropy may degenerate into mere formality. Men may be driven to any lengths in defending a sectarian idea. An anatomist may slash the dissecting knife through the heart of his own father for the purpose of establishing some favourite physiological dogma.

(2) The highest qualification for social judgment is personal innocence.—"He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."—Jesus does not abrogate the law,—he does not set himself in opposition to Moses: the scribes and Pharisees desired to antagonise Moses and Jesus, but the answer which they received withered up their purposes, and gave their thoughts a turn which they regarded with supreme aversion. He shows, however, that the law is to be administered by clean hands; that the thunders of the law are to be articulated by pure lips; that the stone of judgment is to be flung with the pity of holiness, and not with the wantonness of revenge.

I value this counsel for two reasons:—

First. It gives full scope to the faculty of conscience. Jesus did not accuse these men; they accused themselves. He might have arraigned them one by one, and passed judgment on each, but he abbreviates the process by making each man judge himself. He did not say, "There is not a sinless man among you," but he asked the sinless man to step forward and cast the first stone at the erring sister. Conscience takes the candle into the inmost recesses of our being. Conscience holds up a mirror to the leprous soul. Conscience shows us the cracks in our porcelain respectability, and the specks upon our boasted morality. This dread agent of God in the human soul showed that the main difference between the accused and the accusers was that her sin was found out, and theirs was not; the sun had got hold of her iniquity, while theirs lay rotting in the darkness. They wished to pass for respectable men—decent members of society—pillars in the temple of rectitude; but when conscience, commissioned by divine authority, began to rifle their history, they fled from the sanctuary without daring to fling the stone of retribution.

Second. It reveals God"s view of human society. The Lord seeth not as man seeth. Man saw these scribes and Pharisees in eager haste to honour the law, to brand crime, to maintain righteousness; but God saw the under-lurking villainy, and marked every spring of poison which bubbled in the depraved heart, and bade them look at themselves before looking at and despising others. God sees the hidden chamber of imagery. His eye alights on the interior view, and it is by that view that all his judgments are regulated. Stripping society of its pompous garniture—laying off its gilded trinketry—he pours the sunlight into the caverns of the heart, and shows how the reptiles of iniquity are fattening there. God does not see us as we see each other as we sit in church; his eye searches the very core and spring of our being. Personal innocence, then, is the highest qualification for social judgment. He is a daring or a wanton man who lightly assumes the functions of social magistracy. Where there is most holiness there is most pity. It was God"s own holiness that wept itself into mercy,—such mercy!—mercy that died and rose again that sinners might "sin no more." When we are under the full dominion of that mercy we shall need but the faintest breeze of appeal to shake the tears of pity from our melting eyes.

(3) Readiness to accuse another is no guarantee of personal rectitude. To have seen these men haling the poor woman and stating her crime so fully and emphatically, one might have concluded that they were themselves just men, who lived daily in the fear and love of the Most High; and yet such a conclusion would have been in utter antagonism to the melancholy reality of the case. We have all seen men who have gnashed their teeth with diabolic savageness through the quivering frame of a poor offender, and hung on to the swelling flesh with a pertinacity that would have done credit to the fiercest beast in the jungle; and these men all the while imagining that by dooming others to perdition they were proving their own meetness for the highest heaven. Alas! though such men may turn their red eyes to heaven as if in prayer, they have not the spirit of Jesus, who forgiveth and receiveth the world"s worst sinners. The scribes and Pharisees were more ready to condemn than was Jesus Christ. The Saviour was not so intent upon condemning men as they were. Eagerness to hurry men off to perdition is but a poor pledge of piety. Many men would avoid this poor unhappy woman, who are themselves no paragons of excellence. I know not of a more distressing sight than to see one poor sinner dealing harshly and furiously with another. Each sinner seems to think his own sin less heinous than that of his neighbour. There, is a man who drinks himself into stupidity every night at his own fireside, and who renders himself disgusting to every member of his household,—yet that man turns scornfully away from this poor woman! There, is another, who is "such a son of Belial that a man cannot speak to him;" from whom his own children flee in terror; who cultivates the lowest and meanest of all tyrannies, tyranny in his own family,—yet that man turns scornfully away from this poor woman! There, is a stingy, shrivelled soul, that can hardly afford himself bread, who begrudges his family every article of apparel, who accounts himself clever if he can cheat his tradesmen out of a shilling, who would grind and crush the bones of his workmen, and could see every one of them buried in a pauper"s grave,—yet that man turns scornfully away from this poor woman! There, is a proud, haughty, glass-eyed, hardhearted Prayer of Manasseh , who expects the poor to clear themselves off before his imperial march, who never wept over weakness, never shed a smile on the orphan"s lonely way, who talks to the poor of the parish laws, and points the breadless and homeless to the workhouse,—yet that man turns scornfully away from this poor woman! There, is a man who can spend hours in slander, who smacks his empoisoned lips like a debauchee, when he has words of dishonour to speak about another, who can whisper defamation, who can hiss syllables of cruelty,—yet that man can present himself among the sons of God, and turn scornfully away from this poor woman! Oh, it makes one"s heart sore and sad to mark how one child of guilt can eagerly brand another, and send him, amid frantic clapping of unclean hands, to the fellowship of devils.

(4) True interest in social crime is best shown by saving the criminal from despair.—"Go, and sin no more." The good man never ignores the presence of sin. Jesus Christ, with all his gentleness and mercy, did not tell the woman that she was innocent, nor did he treat her as an innocent woman. Christ was ever forward to maintain the broad distinction between right and wrong. I believe that if we follow his example we shall frown upon sin in all its aspects and tendencies, and never cast the faintest smile upon its downward course. We must never treat the thief as though he were honest, or the liar as though he were truthful, or the proud as though he were humble, or the miser as though he were generous. We owe such distinctions to the dignity of virtue, and they must be maintained for ever. At the same time our lesson is this: Never cast the penitent sinner into despair. Jesus said, "Go, and sin no more." Take one more chance in life; turn over a page; begin again; treat this as a second birthday; go, and make the future better than the past. Thank God for such words of hope! The beams of mercy shoot far across the gloom of guilt; the voice of hope falls on the ear of the remotest wanderer! Christ here teaches us the true method of rescuing and restoring the criminal,—never cast him into despair.

If you can say one gentle word, or give one hopeful glance, to the prisoner who is brought before you, I call upon you in the name of God to do it. The blessing of him who is ready to perish will come upon you, and in a recovered life you may find your ultimate reward. Would not this poor woman for ever feel a kindling love to him who spake this word of hope to her? Would she hesitate for a moment on whom to pour the benedictions of her glowing and expanding heart? The righteous Pharisees, the holy scribes, Would have smitten her with death; but the divine Saviour spread a new page of life before her, and told her to begin again. A word of hope may strike a happy influence through an entire lifetime. Those of us who imagine that we have never sinned do not know the value of such a word; but those of us who have taken our sins into dark places, and wept over them, and then taken them to the Saviour"s Cross, and heard his voice of mercy, know how the soul warms, and gladdens, and sings in reply to the word of liberty and love. "Deal gently with the erring one." To-morrow thou mayest thyself eat of the forbidden tree, and pine for some look of hope. The enemy may get a sudden advantage over thee, and if thou hast only scribes and Pharisees for friends, thine will be an unhappy lot. O pause, ere consigning a fellow-creature to the hell of despair! Arrest the harsh word which burns on thy tongue; consider thyself lest thou also be tempted. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." The voice of Jesus to every man Isaiah , "Go, and sin no more." Christ came into the world that he might make an everlasting end of sin. He is the sinner"s only Saviour. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." He not only bids us "sin no more," but he helps us to conquer every temptation Not only does he urge us to rise to heaven, but he puts forth his hand, and gives us the very power which he bids us employ.

Historically True, Morally False

John 8:39

THIS is an apparently novel test of kinship and pedigree. If a man is really in the line of Abraham, how can he be in any other line? or how can he be genealogically displaced? There are circumstances under which kinship is not a question of physical relation, but of mental and moral sympathy. Jesus Christ was always leading us out into wider and larger definitions. Presently, he will make us all, if we be obedient, into one family. He will begin where he can, or where we will allow him to begin: but judge not the Lord"s end by the Lord"s way of beginning; judge not the harvest by the handful of seed which is sown. "Abraham" is not the name of a mere individual. When it is pronounced by Jesus Christ it is the type of a special kind of life—the life Abrahamic, the faith-life; the life that takes its staff and goes out not knowing whither it goeth because a voice divine hath said, "I will give thee a land." When does Jesus Christ adopt a narrow signification? When does he lose an opportunity of amplifying words into their largest meaning? Thus may we know who are Christians, who have learned of Jesus, who have been steadfast and reverent scholars in his school; men who enlarge all things beautiful and true and good, and see in symbols whole heavens of beauty and rest. We speak of children in various senses ourselves; we say they are children of evil, or we say they are children of light. Sometimes we describe a man as a "child of genius," and there is a common phrase, namely, "children of grace." We must get this word "children" out of its narrow roots and small limitations, as if it were a mere term of animal life, and must set it in the true light, and in its proper spiritual relation.

The great law which Christ here lays down Isaiah , that that which is historically true may be morally false; men may be genealogically akin, and spiritually alien; natural relation may be forfeited by moral apostasy. On what great principles he bases his teaching! He introduces into human thoughts a law which overturns all our little sophisms and illusions, and gives us a new conception of God and life and nature. Again and again he says,"Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures": you quote them, but do not cite their meaning; you drag in the letter according to some old custom of interpretation, but you do not bring in the spirit with all its vitality and luminousness. Few men read the Bible; the spirit of the Bible is not in them, and, therefore, they cannot read the Bible itself; they pronounce the words, but they do not utter the thought. Nor is this peculiar to the Bible; it is a law which applies to all human life. You cannot deliver the message of a man unless you are in sympathy with the man himself. You may deliver the very words he told you to deliver, and yet all the message may go out of them, and words which were intended as gracious salutations, and assurances of love and co-operation, may be no better than cold ashes. These men to whom Christ is now speaking said, We are Abraham"s children; and Christ said, No, there you are mistaken. They offered to produce the record, but he said the record was not a matter of paper-and-ink; it is a matter of likeness, spiritual identity, soul kindred. If ye have not Abraham"s faith, then you abuse Abraham"s name by using it; in justice to the dead let sacred names alone, unless in assuming them you fill them with the spirit by which they were first ennobled and consecrated. How Jesus Christ, then, dispossesses men of pedigree and claim and status and record, unless the men themselves are of the right bulk and colour and quality and force! The Abrahamic dignity is not superimposed, or handed down like an heirloom; every man must support his claim by his spirit and his action. "If ye were Abraham"s children, ye would do the works of Abraham," but because ye do not the works of Abraham, you have no right to use the holy man"s name. You do a certain kind of work and there is no mistake about its quality—there is devil in it at every point; it throbs with devilism,—"Ye are of your father the devil." Let us, then, look at our records, and see how we really stand. Ours may be but a paper respectability; we may have nothing but a written pedigree to show. Why, a horse may have a pedigree! What are we? What do we? What would we do if we could?—These are the questions which test quality and descent.

Here are men who say, We are the children of the old Covenanters? Are you? If you are the children of the old Covenanters you are men of faith and conviction. Is there a conviction amongst you? Can the whole sum-total of you muster one conviction? If ye are the children of the old Covenanters, then you love God passionately; you hold truth with a grip which cannot be loosened; you will die for the truth, if need be. Are you children of the old Covenanters? Who would have thought it?—sleeping in church, never going out in foul weather, forming opinions, but doing nothing to support or sustain them that is of the nature of sacrifice. You, who never damped a foot in God"s service, a child of the old Covenanters! Do not dishonour the dead. If you want to tell lies, tell them in your own name, limit them by your own personality, but do not bury the Covenanters in the grave of falsehood. If ye were the children of the Covenanters, ye would do the work of the Covenanters,—you would know the truth, and love the truth, and support the truth, and preach the truth, and no man would be able to stop your mouth in the hour of testimony. How stands the case now?

Here are more modern men who say, We are of a good old Methodist stock. Are you? I doubt it. We have portraits of old Methodists. Very likely. And what do they do for you? It is a pity you have them; they ought to be in the hands of better men. But if you are of a good old Methodist stock, then you will be men of enthusiasm, passion; you will be "sensational" Christians; at uncalculated times you will be breaking out into Song of Solomon , praising God, disturbing the decorum of too-dignified ceremony in church; you will be rapturous Christians, your voice will be heard in the Psalm , you will love the exercise of prayer. The old Methodists hazarded their lives for the Lord Jesus Christ,—when did you ever hazard a meal? Do not dishonour the dead; do not make conveniences of their names; do not try to acquire respectability by the use of their arms. If ye were the children of the Methodists, ye would do the work of the Methodists, and not allow some other section to leap up as if out of the dust to take your crown and leave you in the rear.

Others say, We are the children of gentlefolks. We can easily test that. You need not produce a single record. We have only to spend a day with you, and to see you under trying circumstances, to know your quality. What are gentlefolks? Just what the name implies—gentle, patient, large-minded, large-hearted; not impetuous, fierce, cruel, vengeful, but filled with the spirit of gentleness, taking the kindliest view of every action and every deed, and happiest when doing most to increase the happiness of others. If ye were the children of gentlefolks ye would be gentle yourselves. If you are gentle, then your pedigree is proved, and it ceases to be a mere genealogy, and becomes a life of sacred fellowship and brotherhood. How many a man would today be the owner of a title and an estate if, as he says, he could only find one piece of paper. What a pity that any man should be kept back from a title and an estate because he cannot find one piece of paper! Can nobody find a piece of paper for him? It is a marriage certificate, an entry in a parish register; he has nineteen proofs, but because he has not the twentieth he is going to the workhouse, and he is going to pass out of the world namelessly. It is just so with many persons Who claim to be the descendants of gentlefolks. They have everything—but the gentleness. Up to that point all their proofs are valid; the shrewdest, keenest legal eyes can see no flaw whatever in all the yellow writing; but when it comes to the one question of gentleness, charity, great heart-sweep, proof there is none, except proof to the contrary. All who are of pure descent from a pure origin are known by instincts, sympathies, and fellowships, which no transient circumstances can conceal or destroy.

Jesus Christ showed the Jews, and therefore showed all men, what the test is by which a pure descent is known. They said they were not children of fornication, they had one father, even God—as if to say, There we are strong; you may throw some doubt upon our Abrahamic descent, but God made us. Jesus said, There you are wrong once more; you are always wrong, you wicked generation! I have never heard from your lips one right word. If you quote the Scripture, you spoil it; if you enter upon an argument, you fill it with sophisms; if you make a statement, you simply invent a lie. Now, "if God were your Father, ye would love me "—that is the test—because ye would know me; my disguise would not conceal me; you would say, Though he is in the flesh, he is not of the flesh; though he is on the earth, yet he is in heaven; there is something about him that there is about no other man. "Ye would love me," come to me, ask to be allowed to live with me; like would come to like; you would be moved by a strange feeling of kinship; you would say, Though we never saw this man before, he belongs to us, and we belong to him; he comes locally from a poor place, genealogically from a poor family, circumstantially out of poor conditions, but we cannot do without him; in his face is deity, in his voice is music, in his touch is resurrection: we will take up our abode with him. If God were your Father, you would rise above all local prejudice, and seize the essence of the truth: you would know the divine through every disguise.

Do not boast that you are of God unless you love all that is godly. God is not a name. Regarded as a name it becomes a symbol, a symbol of all truth, purity, righteousness, goodness, gentleness, charity, redeemingness. If God were your Father, you would be godly. Jesus Christ has the best of the argument, even if the dialogue be judged merely as a human composition. What Jesus Christ says is fundamental, it involves the whole question, he leaves nothing untouched and unrelated; the other talkers are mere chatterers, gossips, men who relate the little words of the little time without a philosophy that involves and includes the universe. When Jesus Christ speaks he lays down a law that crystallises everything that belongs to it; he speaks like a philosopher—"Never man spake like this man." How destructively he spoke upon this occasion! When the Jews stood upon the Abrahamic pedestal, he swept them off, declaring that they should not stand there, posing as liars and hypocrites; when they claimed to be children of God he said that God knew nothing about them—ignored them: "I never knew you: depart from me, ye workers of iniquity." "Ye are of your father, the devil": you have a pedigree, you have a father; if you want to search into origins I can take you down a straight line, and your father will be found to be a murderer from the beginning, one who abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him; when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

Jesus Christ was not likely to make himself a popular preacher. He divided his congregation, he searched them with the candle of the Lord, he riddled them through the sieve of judgment and truth. What a great principle is this! How it applies in all educational directions—namely, that if we are of a great teacher certain consequences will flow from that filial regard, and there will be no doubt whatever of the purity of our descent; if we are of God, we shall know things godly, wherever we find them. Suppose we find some beautiful ethical principle in the writings of Confucius. What an awful thing to do! Confucius actually wrote some proverbs as beautiful as those that are in the Bible! What would Jesus Christ say to us when we came upon such proverbs? He would say, If ye are the children of God, ye would know God"s Word wherever you find it. When the Chinese philosopher wrote that beautiful sentence he wrote as he was moved by the Holy Ghost. Ye fools and blind! can God"s wisdom be bound up in any two covers made by human hands? Why, if all that God had to say, Christ might have continued, were to be published, the whole world could not contain the books that would be issued. If, then, we are of God, and have the really godly spirit in us, wherever we find truth or beauty, or the beginning of the best life, we shall say, Lo, God is here, and I knew it not: this heathen book Isaiah , in respect of all these deep, true, pure words, none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven. Here is a flower growing in the fissures of a rock. Is it an orphan flower? is it a self-made flower? If it could come down from its rocky height and walk into the well-cultured garden, might it not say, We have all one father, and one gardener hath taken care of us every one: I am glad to have come down from my stony isolation, and I am thankful to be able to join the floral brotherhood? What if the garden brotherhood should say, We do not know thee; we are of our father the gardener? Who art thou? what is thy pedigree? They would be foolish flowers, and not deserve to live another year. It is by the operation of this same law that we know brotherhood. Being of the same quality, we accost one another in the same language. That is the secret of the Church. It is not a company of strangers; although the men may never have seen one another before, yet they know one another by the genius of the heart, by the masonry of sympathy and love. Here, then, we have a permanent Church, because it is not built upon changeable conditions, but it is founded upon instincts, sympathies, impulses, aspirations—universal, profound, ineradicable. This is the brotherhood of man. We are not akin because we were born of the same parents, under the same roof; we may be strangers at daggers drawn. We shall know to what family we belong as life evolves. It is at the end that men are born, not the beginning. At the first, all is experiment, novelty, uncertainty, but as life evolves, and men come and go, and the whole illusion of life expands, we begin to see who is our father, and mother, and sister, and brother; then will we understand the words of Jesus Christ himself—he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my kinsman, kinswoman—here, there, now, and through eternal duration. If the Church were built upon arbitrary conditions, the Church would be a merely political arrangement, which could be changed by incoming or outgoing governments: the Church is a brotherhood, built on instinct, on family impulse and feeling, and therefore the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Is there not a completing truth? Must the preacher end here? Nay, for then he would leave half his tale untold; he would not have begun to preach the larger gospel. What he has said may be true enough in all substance; whatever Revelation -adjustment of detail in argument or illustration might be made, the preacher might be substantially sound and correct up to this point: but is there not another word that needs to be spoken? Can any heart suggest it? The intellect may not think of it, fancy may never direct her wing into that quarter, but may not the heart say that there is another truth to be told, and insist upon its being told? Let us yield to the gracious insistence. The other truth Isaiah , that though we may have been children of evil, we may become children of Abraham; though we may be by nature the children of wrath, even as others, yet we may become the children of God. If there is a way called apostasy by which man may lose his Abrahamic dignity and relation, there is also another way, upward, large, brighter than the sun at noonday, walking up which a man shakes off all that is impure, undivine, unholy, in his descent, and becomes an adopted child of God. Because we have been born in the family of the devil that is no reason why we should not belong to the family of the saints. "Ye must be born again." "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." We were as sheep going astray, but now we have returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls; we had not Abraham to our father, but by the mercies of God we are able to call Abraham our father, as he was father of the faithful. We were not born children of God, but children of wrath and of judgment; but being born again God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, whereby we cry, "Abba, Father!" He comes upon us like a new sunlight, like a dawn we have never seen before—the very Light of Eternity.

Prayer

Almighty God, thou knowest us by name, and canst come to us according to our special wants. Thou hast treated us as if we alone were thy children, as if thou hadst not a whole universe beyond us to care for and bless; as the sun doth bathe the earth in light, as if it were the only world over which thou didst set it, so thou hast filled us with hope and glory, as if we were thine only begotten sons. We come to thee with overflowing hearts; our mouth is opened in renewed praise; we have made haste to appear in this thy house; thou hast given us so much; thou hast held back nothing from us; thou hast made us rich with thine own self. We have left the pursuits of the world for an hour, and we thank thee that we have hope of rest in thee whilst we abide here. Wilt thou not hasten to help us? Wilt thou not give us a reviving? Why should we thus question thee when thou hast already answered us—Lo, God is here, and this is a holy place. Let us now see the littleness of earth, and let us feel the infinite preciousness of heaven. Help us to be truthful, noble, courageous, and every way like Jesus Christ; may we do our worldly business in an unworldly spirit; may we perform all our pilgrimage in haste. This morning give us the bread which, being eaten in secret, shall be pleasant; and the waters which, being stolen from the time of the world, shall be sweet. In this hour we shall live long—these are the moments which deepen our vitality. Though we are in the midst of the week, yet do we anticipate the Sabbath; we hear its voices of music, we feel its hallowing and quieting spell. Lord, make our whole life as a Sabbath. Give us rest even in the midst of labour, and divine elevation even amidst the distractions of an uncertain and unsatisfactory world. God be merciful unto us sinners. We cannot cease this prayer whilst we are conscious of the presence of our sins in our life; yet do we utter it in assured confidence that it is thy delight to forgive. We think of the Cross, and remember that Jesus Christ came to take away sins; we think of the Resurrection, and enter into the spirit and rest of our Redeemer"s triumph. We shall be delivered from all evil; thou wilt clothe us as with white linen, and there shall be no stain of sin upon us for ever. Amen.

Sonship

John 8:42

Then are not all men the children of God? It would seem, indeed, as if they surely were—as if, indeed, the necessity of the case excluded every other possibility. Did not God make man in his own image and likeness? He did not make him as the beasts that perish; but he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and talked to him and confided to him high responsibilities. It was not a mimic creation. God was not playing at Prayer of Manasseh -making when he fashioned Adam out of the dust of the earth. What is the reality of the case? We could have had no being but for God, and our being is of that particular kind which points to childlike relation and childlike dependence and service. How is it, then, that in the Scriptures we are constantly coming upon a distinction which separates between man and Prayer of Manasseh , designating one man a child of light, another a child of darkness—one a child of God and another a child of the devil? We ought to be anxious to know the exact teaching of Scripture upon this point. Our perplexity arises from the fact that it looks, on the face of it, as if we must all be children of the Highest. Why, then, this particular distinction? Why this moral separation? These should be questions that give the heart no rest until they are determined by the authority of Holy Scripture itself. We read of Solomon these words, "I have chosen him to be my Song of Solomon , and I will be his Father." Of Ephraim we read, "I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn." So here is the doctrine of separation. Here is something that looks like a law of discrimination and election. I want, so far as may be possible, to grasp the underlying and all-explaining-principle of this pathetic and, in some respects, most mournful distinction.

There is a sense in which a man may not be the father of his own child! Our conceptions of fatherhood may be too narrow, so narrow indeed as to become really false in all higher aspects and relations. Consider for one moment this extraordinary proposition—there is a sense in which a man is not the father of his own child! We must appeal to facts in evidence, and in gathering those facts and sifting that evidence we shall be compelled to own to a greater mystery on the ground of the man"s fatherhood than on the ground of his having no real relation to the child. We are not animals only. In the true and complete idea of fatherhood and sonship there must be the element of consent. You do not want to live in such animal affection as may subsist naturally between and amongst the beasts of the earth and their offspring. That is not love in its divine significance and application. Here, for example, is a good man with a bad son. I say, they are not relations at all, in the higher sense. They are related physically, by the law of consanguinity; there is a blood bond between them which neither of them could help, but they are not father and son in the enduring and complete sense of those terms. Take such a son and ask him where the bond of union is between himself and his father. Your father is a praying man; he walks with God, his conversation, or conduct, is in heaven, he is filled with a godly and inspiring expectation which lifts him above the meanness and the bondage of time and earth; he walks in company with the angels, every morning is to him a revelation and every eventide a benediction. What is your life? Prayerless, thoughtless, godless, selfish, mean, sensual, self-indulgent, marked out upon the surface of time and without any settled and thoughtful relation to things unseen and eternal! To tell me you are the son of such a man is in the deeper sense of the term a falsehood. Kinship is in the soul. Your kindred are not of your flesh, but of your mind, your heart, and sympathy. "Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." The case will bear to be inverted. Take a bad man with a good son. What a mystery is that! Yet we have known it. We look upon some young persons and say, "How did they come to be what they are, considering the circumstances under which they were born and trained? What refinement, what intelligence, what high sympathies, what noble purposes and impulses!" How can you account for these? By atmospheric laws? Why, this is a miracle! I know of no miracle of a superior kind. Do you tell me that that bad, self-indulgent man is the father of that godly, devoted, self-sacrificing youth? But for merely animal considerations the youth might shake him off and disown him, with the contempt not of vulgarity but of refinement, as light shakes off darkness, and as that which is holy looks with repellent indignation upon everything that even appears to be of the nature of evil. What is it, then, that constitutes fatherhood? Fatherliness. You are not a father if you are not fatherly. But is it possible for a man who is a father to be unfatherly? Most certainly; and therein is the plague of much home life. The man at the head of the home is no father. He is a governor, a leader, a paymaster, a tyrant, an overlooker; but he is not a father, full of love and wisdom and tenderness, strong in his sense of rectitude, yet beautiful in the dews of pity and compassion which make him charmful and approachable. Why did you go to your father, dear child? Simply because of a physical relation between you? Then all children would go to their father the same as you did, but they do not; then there must be some difference. What is that difference? You went to your father because he was fatherly—a man of a great heart, into whose eyes the tears soon came, and into whose voice the tender tone leaped instantly when he saw you in weakness or fear. You went to him and prayed to him in an earthly, but very significant and beautiful, sense every day. Sometimes you made him do what you wanted him to do! That is what God permits in his high court! In common words he would say, "Tease, importune, give no rest, knock again and again; come up seven times, and do not go away until both hands are full, and your heart is overflowing!" "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force," that Isaiah , by the force of love and earnestness. You have not a God unless you yourselves are godly. Do not tell me of your intellectual and metaphysical god; he is vanity. Be mine a wooden Baal rather than a shapeless, intangible, mocking cloud. I will hug to my mocked heart some cold, deified stone rather than follow you in your metaphysical dreaming and God-planning and heaven-mapping. He has a God who is himself godly; he is a father who is fatherly.

We must remember, too, that though God may be our Father we may not be his children. For example, take this passage, "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven." Take another passage, "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." Now, it is in this inner sense that I want to be a child of God. Here comes the element, as we have already called it, of consent I am not a mere creature which I cannot help being; I am a willing child of God. I have said, "Abba!" Father, my heart has said it. I love to say it "Creator!" So says the beast of the field. "Father!" So says the awakened, living, consenting heart. Do not, therefore, give way to the sentiment which tells you that all are God"s children, irrespective of age, condition, moral aspiration, or moral behaviour. That is a sentiment which will not stand against the shock of the trying wind or the flood of testing waters. Such reasoning does not consult our humanity; leaves our reason out of the question; takes no account of our moral consent. Such a theology drags men at its chariot wheels willingly or unwillingly. It is not, therefore, a gospel of the heart; it is a mere exercise of iron strength, and in such Song of Solomon -called sonship there can be neither loyalty nor worship. The appeal, then, to us is this, Will you become the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus? That is Paul"s expression, and it cannot be well amended. Paul makes the distinction very broad and very clear; his words are these, "They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God." What is his idea? That a man must, as to his main purpose, be living either downwards or upwards. In other words, he is either a child of the flesh or a child of God. What is your dominating thought in life? There are some men that are verily flesh. With the full consent of everything that is within them they consent to the evil, they wallow in the mire, they find their enjoyment in the gratification of the flesh. It is not succumbing to a temptation. It is not being "overtaken in a fault." It is not an occasional slip or even sin, but a daily delight, a continual consent, a waking in the morning to repeat it, a sleeping at night to renew it in unholy dream, a turning of the earth into an incipient and preparatory hell; a joy, devil-born and devil-rewarded. Paul says of such people, "You are children of the flesh, and not the children of God." Let not my charity be evil spoken of, or perverted, if I say that I have great sympathy with men who may be suddenly ensnared by an evil, who may be overtaken in a fault, and who, now and again, maybe, depart a long way from the right course. I am not commending or approving them, nor am I holding them up as examples, and the solemn fear in uttering even one word of charity Isaiah , that some may eat the bread who are not entitled to it. Yet I cannot allow certain souls to be cast out of the sanctuary when I know that, how manifold soever their departures and slips and sins, they can honestly say, "I hate them every one; I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto him, "Father, I have sinned; God be merciful to me a sinner."" At the risk of some dog eating the child"s bread, I will not allow such persons to be mixed up indiscriminately with the class I have described who live on the brink of hell and enjoy the sulphurous fumes of the pit of perdition.

Then there comes this difficulty—which will presently be shot through and through with sunlight and become a golden cloud—namely, If you are children of God how does it come that you have so much sorrow and affliction? This is the seal of sonship! "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" "If ye be without chastisement... then are ye bastards and not sons." "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers trials, knowing that the trial of your faith worketh patience," and to patience God grants the most vivid and beauteous revelations of his grace. From patience God keeps nothing of God. "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." Who, then, would not love to engage in a fight when the guerdon is so rich in the case of overcoming? We must be tried in battle. God"s is not a paper army, but an army of living souls. We must be tried by fire. God"s gold is not to be mixed with dross. We must be chastened in the furnace of affliction. Ours must not be a doubtful love; it must be a love that goes up at the last, having fought well, having come out of the fire unscathed, having passed through affliction adorned with a more beautiful resignation, and inspired by a more confident hope. Life is not a holiday. Life is a discipline. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." "Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." Who will set any affliction against that? Who will venture to utter his little whimper of complaint against this great promise, spoken with all the thunder of God"s power, and yet whispered with all the tenderness of God"s love?

Prayer

Almighty God, all things are in thine hands. Even when we suppose ourselves free agents, behold we are but working out thy will. Thou dost cause the wrath of man to praise thee, and the remainder thereof thou dost restrain. Thou hast fixed the purpose and the scope of all things; it is ours to study, to obey, to suffer, to carry out all thy will, simply, lovingly, and hopefully. We have nothing that is our own; we are stewards and trustees of the living God; if we have Wisdom of Solomon , the lamp was lighted at the sun of thy throne; if we have power, it is borrowed from thine almightiness; every one of us shall give account of himself to God; we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. If we could believe that thou art governing us all, directing our steps, upholding our way, behold we should be calm, in the night-time we should have Song of Solomon , and every morning would be a new opportunity for generous action and heroic service. Lord, may our faith never fail; may we know that the furnace is thine as well as the fountain, that when we are condemned to suffer we are still under thy sceptre, and none can harm us; all things are measured out and determined by the sovereign, loving Lord. All this we have learned in the school of Jesus Christ, thy Song of Solomon , our Saviour, Immanuel, God with us. He showed us the Father; he represented things eternal; he embodied the everlasting mysteries, and out of his words and actions, out of his example and sacrifice, we draw lessons which enlarge our understanding, and ennoble our life, and lift us to new hopes, and point us in the direction of greatest destiny. Lift us up with Jesus on the holy Cross; then we shall see what he saw, and in our measure feel what he felt, and despising the shame, we shall look onward to the final glory. May we have the seeing eye, the hearing ear, the understanding heart, lest we walk through life like fools, and have nothing to show at the end, being without noble recollection, and without solid thought, mere wrecks of manhood; but as we go through the devious paths of time may we gather what we can of knowledge and Wisdom of Solomon , history and thought, and be devout students of the mysterious providence of God. May we begin our journey at the Cross; may we conclude our travels at the Cross; may we never wander from the Cross; may we test everything by the Cross; and when we examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith, may we examine ourselves at the Cross. God forbid that we should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,—the mystery of law, the mystery of righteousness, the mystery of love, the mystery of mercy. There may we find all we need—pardon, purity, peace, heaven. Amen.

Jesus Christ"s Claim for Himself

John 8:42

Shall I startle you if I say, notwithstanding the multitude of books written upon the life of Christ, there is yet not only room but necessity for a volume to be written on that unexhausted theme? We have had outward lives of Christ enough, perhaps more than enough—lives that tell us about places and dates and occurrences; books of beautiful colouring, high description of locality and scenery, and the like. All the circumstantial occurrences of the life of the Son of God have been given us with tedious and painful minuteness and repetition by bookmakers of various degrees. What then is this other book we want? A complement, a completion, and an explanation of all other books, viz, "The Inner life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Not a life of circumstances, but a life of thoughts, purposes, feelings, aspirations, desires; the inward, spiritual, metaphysical, eternal life of Christ. Can it ever be written? It will be often attempted—it will never be done, for no limited book can exhaust an illimitable subject.

Until we study this inner life of Christ deeply, all the outward life of Christ will be a plague to our intellect and a mortification to our heart; we shall always be coming upon things we cannot understand and cannot explain; not only Song of Solomon , we shall be coming upon things that seem to confront the understanding and to defy the intelligence of men. But if we get into sympathy with the inward spiritual life of Christ, then we shall do what Christ did—move out upon these outward and visible things, and see them in their right relations and colours and proportions. The inward always explains the outward; why should it not be so in this greatest case of all? Come to the outward only, and you will have controversy, difficulty, discrepancy, intellectual annoyance, moral surprise, and perhaps spiritual disappointment. But begin at the other end—get to know the man"s soul, get into sympathy with his purpose, see somewhat of the scope and the outlook of his mental nature, and then you will take up the miracles as a very little thing.

Let me now give you, roughly, some hints of the kind of thing that is wanted. Suppose we saw one of the miracles of Christ. So far control your mind as actually to realise that you are present at what was called, in the days of Christ, the raising of the dead. Let us make this as realistic as we can: the dead man is here, the living Christ is here, the mourning friends are here—and presently the dead man rises and begins to speak to us, and we have seen what is called the miracle of resurrection. But now, is it trick or miracle you have seen? Is it an illusion or a fact? How am I to determine this question? I cannot determine it in itself. Why? Because my eyes have been so often deceived. I have seen what I could have declared to have been the most positive and absolute facts, and yet when the explanation has been given I have been obliged to confess that I was deceived and befooled by my own vision. If it has been so in a hundred cases, why not so in this? At all events, there is that suggestion which may be pressed upon me until it becomes a temptation, and the temptation may be urged upon me so vehemently and persistently as almost to shake and destroy my faith. I can declare that I saw a man get up—but the conjurer comes to me and says, "I will show you something equally deceiving." I go, and I see his avowed trick: it does baffle me and surprise me exceedingly, and if he then shall follow up that conquest, and shall say, "It was just the same with what you thought the raising of the dead," he will leave me intellectually in a state of self-torment. I shall still think I saw the event, but he will continue to perplex my vision by a thousand tricks, and show me how impossible it is for any man to trust his eyesight.

Then what am I to do? Leave the outward altogether. Watch the man who performed the miracle—listen to him: if his thoughts are deep and pure, if his mental triumphs are equal to his physical miracles, then admire and trust and love him. Take this same conjurer just referred to. When he is on the stage, and, so to speak, in character, he seems to be working miracles: they are miracles to me. Therefore, indeed, I go to see them, and have no other reason than to be baffled and surprised and confounded, and to have my keenest watchfulness returned to me without the prize which it coveted. His tricks outrun my vision—my eye cannot follow his supple hand. How then? When he comes off the stage and begins to talk on general subjects I begin to feel my equality with him rising and asserting itself. On the stage I could not touch him—watching his hand I could not follow its manipulations at all. But when he comes away from his official character and his professional region, and begins to speak upon subjects with which I am familiar, I sound the depths of his mind, and get the exact measure of his character, and then he becomes clever, artful, surprising, delightful—but only a wizard, only a conjurer: wonderful with his wand in his fingers, nothing without it.

So when I go to Christ as a mere stranger I see him raising the dead, opening the eyes of the blind, and I say, "We have seen these things attempted before, and very wonderful successes have followed the wand of the wizard and the word of the enchanter. This man may be but cleverest of the host, prince of princes, Beelzebub of the Beelzebubs. I will, therefore, not go further into this case; I have no time to examine this man"s credentials, I must be about another and a higher order of business;" but when he begins to talk I am arrested as by unexpected music. I say to him, "Speak on." His words are equal to his works. He is the same off the platform as on it. Not only do I say, "I never saw it on this fashion before;" but I also say, "I never heard it on this fashion before." I listen to his thoughts, to his purposes, to his desires, and I find that he is as inimitable in his thinking as he is in his working and acting. What then? I am bound to account for this consistency. All other men have been manifest exemplifications of self-inequality. We know clever men who are fools, strong men who are weak, eloquent men who stammer, men who are great in this direction, small in some other, self-contradictions, self-anomalies; and this want of self-consistency and self-coherence is at once a proof of their being merely men. But if I find a man in whom this fact of inequality does not exist, who is as great in thinking as in working, who says that if I could follow him still higher I should find him greater in thinking than it is possible for any mere man to be in acting; then I have to account for that consistency which I have met nowhere else, and to listen to this Man"s explanation of it: "I proceeded forth and came from God;" "I am from above;" that explanation alone will cover all the ground which he boldly and permanently occupies.

It will be infinitely interesting to study the inner life of Christ; to make ourselves, so far as possible, as familiar with his thoughts as we are with his works. And if we do this, we shall come to set the same value upon his miracles that he himself did. What value did he set upon his miracles for their own sake? None. When did he ever say, "Behold this mighty triumph of my power, ye sons of men"? Never. When did he sound a trumpet and convoke a mighty host to see the loosing of a dumb tongue, and the opening of a blind eye? Never. When did he ever make anything of his miracles other than something merely elementary and introductory, and of the nature of example and symbol? Never. How was this? Because he was so much greater within than he was without. If he had performed the miracles with his fingers only, he might have been proud of them; but when they fell out of the infinity of his thinking, they were mere drops trembling on the bucket: they were as nothing before him. We might as well follow some poor breathing of ours and say, "Behold, how wonderful was that sighing in the wind!" It is nothing to us, because of the greater life. And these miracles are puzzles, enigmas, confounding surprises to people who will come to Christ, along the line which begins in the outward, in the visible, in the circumstantial. If ever they can get hold of his heart, and speak to him face to face for five minutes, they will feel the heaving of his great sympathetic bosom; they will see the miracles as he saw them, then they will appear to be very little things, momentary spasms, examples to guide children through the grammar of a higher law, mere exemplifications, symbols, types of the infinite and the inexpressible.

It is very remarkable that this Man once said, "Greater works than these shall ye do;" but I will ask you to find a passage in which he ever said, "Greater thoughts than these shall ye think." I cannot find such a passage. You must not forget that in your argument about Christ"s divinity when he piled up his miracles, raising the dead, opening the eyes of the blind, feeding the hungry miraculously, unloosing dumb tongues and unstopping deaf ears; when he aggregated them all into one sublime spectacle, he said, "Greater works than these shall ye do;" but never did he say, "Greater thoughts than these shall ye think; greater words than these shall ye speak; greater purposes than these shall ye conceive." There he touched the unsearchable riches of his own nature, as in the miracles he pointed to circumstances and to events which would receive larger unfoldment as the ages went on.

Now let us look at this inner life of Christ from two or three points. I watch this Man day by day, and I am struck with wonder at his amazing power, and the question arises, What is the impelling sense of his duty? Why does he do these things? And he answers, frankly, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father"s business?" Never did prophet give that explanation before. He is working from his Father"s point of view, in the light of his Father"s will; it is the paternal element that is moving him. He has given me that as his key; I will put it into every lock of his life to see whether he has entrusted me with the proper key or not. I defy the world to find him wrong as to the use of this key. Put it where you like, the lock answers it; and is no credit to be given to a Speaker who, at twelve years of age, took the key from off his girdle, put it into the hands of inquirers, and told them to go round the whole circle of his life with that key in their hands? He was but a boy when he gave up that key—he was but twelve years old—approaching manhood by Jewish reckoning, but merely a child in years. Can he keep up the high strain? Listen: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." "I and my Father are one." Can he sustain that high key when he is in trouble? Listen: "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." Can he go higher still? Listen: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." O ye who know the modes of music, tell me, is this harmony? The key note Isaiah , "Father." Away the Anthem rolls, high as heaven, deep as hell, tortuous as the paths of the forked lightning, and yet with infinite precision it returns to its initial note. Give Christ credit for this. He was but a Galilean peasant; give him what honour is due for preserving his rhythmic consistency through a course, not rugged only but most tragical and unparalleled.

Arguing from that point, another question suggests itself. If this Man is about his Father"s business, what is his supreme feeling? What answer would you expect to an inquiry like that, after the self-explanation which Jesus Christ has given? Is his supreme feeling a concern for the dignity of the law? Is he jealous with an infinite jealousy for the righteousness of God? Does he come forth from his hiding-place saying, "I am jealous for the holiness of my God; I must vindicate the righteousness of the Unseen and Eternal One"? No. What is the dominant feeling of this Man Christ Jesus? It is named again and again in the New Testament. No change ever occurs in the term, and I will ask you to say how far it corresponds with the first declaration, "Jesus was moved with compassion." Ye musicians, tell me if that be consonant and harmonious? "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father"s business? Jesus was moved with compassion." It was always so; the word "compassion" occurs in no solitary instance alone, though its occurrence in one instance would still have been argument enough. But from beginning to end of his life he is moved with compassion. "Jesus, here are some thousands of people that have been with thee three days and have nothing to eat." Does he wait for us to say that? No. "But Jesus was moved with compassion when he remembered" that the multitudes were in that condition. Coming out once, and looking upon the crowds, "He was moved with compassion, for they were as sheep not having a shepherd." When he was walking to a grave, "Jesus wept." And when people came to him they seemed to know this sympathetically, for they said, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon us, have compassion on us, thou Son of God." He speaks like a Song of Solomon , and is thus faithful to a Father"s message.

What explanation does he give of his own miracles? Once he gave us an explanation, as it were, incidentally and unconsciously; but we caught the word, and it saved us from unbelief and explained all mysteries. How was that long-ailing woman cured? "Virtue hath gone out of me." He did not say, "I have performed this with my fingers; this is an act of manipulation which no other man ever learned to do; it was by swiftness and suppleness and dexterity, and by a mysterious flashing of the fingers over certain parts of the affected body." No, but he perceived that virtue had gone out of him. No trickster, but a mighty sympathiser,—no manipulator, but infinite in the exercise and processes of his redeeming power. Whatever he did took something out of him. Behold the difference between the artificial and the real! What did our redemption cost? The healing of one poor sufferer took "virtue" out of him. What did the redemption of the world take out of him when he said, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The last pulse gone. Is he self-consistent still? Still I

And to what are all his triumphs eventually referred? To his soul. Not to his intellectual ability—not to his skill of finger—not to his physical endurance, but to his soul—an undefinable term, the symbol of an infinite quantity. "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." You know the meaning of the word in some degree. One man paints with paint—another paints with his soul. One is a clever mechanic—another an inborn and indestructible genius. One man speaks with his teeth and tongue and palate—another speaks with his soul: they use the same words, but not the same, as Hermon was not the same with the dew off; as the bush was not the same before the fire came into it. You say one man sings artificially, mechanically, correctly—every tone is right; the proper balance, the proper measure, the proper quantity: artificially the exercise is beyond critisism, but still the people sit unmoved. Another man takes up the same words and the same notes, and the people are stirred like Lebanon by a wind, like Bashan when the storm roars. How is it? The one man is artificial, the other is real—the one man has learned his lesson, the other man had the lesson awakened in him—it was there before, and an angel passed by and said, "It is morning: awake and sing." This Christ, this dear Son of God, shall see of the travail of his soul, of the outgoing of his blood—he sows the earth with the red seed of his blood, and he shall see the harvest and be satisfied. He was often wearied with his journeying: when was he wearied with his miracles? His bones were tired: when was his mind enfeebled? The instruments of articulation might be exhausted, but when did the word ever come with less than the old emphasis—the fiat that made the sun?

Let us now ask—What did this man claim for himself? It will assist us in our study if we hear from his own lips a distinct statement of what he does claim on his own account. Reading in the book of Exodus about the great God, I find that he gave his name as "I Amos ," that he amplified that name into "I AM THAT I AM." We could make nothing of that name; it was too remote for us; our genius had never been in such high regions, never scaled altitudes so perilous. We could therefore but wonder. The name sounded grandly; it had in it all the boom of an infinite mystery, and we were content with it because the condescensions which that same God made to this human life of ours were so mighty yet so pitiful, so wondrous in their sweep and yet so compassionate in their lingerings that we had begun to think, though the name was mysterious, the grace was familiar enough. A marvellous word was that spoken to Moses—"I AM" it seemed as if it were going to be a Revelation , but suddenly it returned upon itself, came back to its centre, and finished with—"THAT I AM"! As if the sun were just about to come from behind a great cloud, and suddenly, after one dazzling gleam, hide itself behind a cloud denser still. The fulness of the time had not yet come. God"s "hour" was not yet. He had said "I Amos ," but what he was he did not further say. By-and-by more will be said. It will be interesting, therefore, to inquire whether Jesus Christ connects himself with that mysterious name, "I AM THAT I AM." If I can trace his talking, his thinking, his preaching, so as to find one point in connection between himself and that great name, then a new and large argument will take its inception, and a new and subtle evidence will be put in that this Man was more than man—as mysterious as the Name, perhaps as gracious. Let us see.

I cannot read the life of Christ without constantly coming upon the expression, "I AM." Reading it, I say, I have met these words before, and wonder where. My memory bethinks itself, and I hasten back into the grey old pages of the ancient time, and find that the Lord revealed himself unto Moses as "I AM THAT I AM." I want to know, therefore, if this great ladder, the top of which is in heaven, can by any means find a place upon the earth; can it come down that I may touch it? Yes. Jesus adds to the "I AM" little words, simple earthly words, nursery terms, school ideas—brings down the "I AM" so that we may touch its lower meaning, and hear its earthly messages. It will, then, be most interesting to see how this is done, and to listen to this modified music of the Eternal.

What does Jesus say after the words "I am"? He says everything that human fancy ever conceived concerning strength and beauty, and sympathy, and tenderness, and redemption. He absorbs the whole. He leaves nothing for you and me except as secondary owners, except as those who derive their status and their lustre from himself. Thus, "I am... the Vine." What a stoop! Could any but God have taken up that figure? Think it out You have heard it until you have become familiar with it—forget your familiarity, think yourself back to the original line, and then consider that One has appeared in the human race who says, without reservation or qualification of any kind or degree, "I am the Vine." Thus is the mysterious simplified; thus is the abstract turned into the concrete and the inner into the visible, the simple, and the approachable. Will he ever say "I am" again? Many a time. Let us hear him. "I am the Light." Ah, we know what the light is; it is here, and there, and everywhere—takes up no room, yet fills all space; warms the planets, yet does not crush a twig. The "I am" fell upon us like a mighty thundering. "I am the Light" came to us like a child"s lesson in our mothers nursery. Thus does he incarnate or embody or personify himself; thus doth the ladder rest in the mean dust, whilst its head is lifted up above the pavilions of the stars.

Will he say "I am" any more? Often. How? Listen: "I am the Door." Dare any but himself have taken upon him so mean a figure? "Ah," said Hebrews , "it is not a mean figure if you interpret it aright. A door is more than deal. A door is more than an arrangement swinging upon hinges. A door is Welcome, Hospitality, Approach, Home, Warmth, Honour, Sonship—I am the Door." Still more: "I am the Bread, I am the Water, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life." When I see how this Man absorbs all beauteous figures, all high and tender emblems, I begin to think that there is nothing left for us by which to distinguish ourselves figuratively and typically. If we take any of these words, they must be taken as with his signature upon them, having a first lien and a prior claim; we are but intermediary and temporary, and altogether subordinate in our stewardship and right of status. How any man could be a man only, and yet take up these figures, it is impossible for me to conceive. It is easier for me to say, "My Lord and my God," than to say, "Equal with me; better only in the accidents of the case."

Seeing that Christ claims so much for himself, it will be equally interesting, and will be the complement of the same subject, to start a second inquiry, namely, What does he claim from men? He claims everything. Sometimes in mean mood of soul I have wondered at his divine voracity. For once, a woman came to him who had only one box of spikenard, and he took it all. I was amazed—half distressed. I never saw such impoverishment made before. He did not say, "Give me part of it," but took it every whit, and the woman had no more left of that precious nard. Could you have done that? Would your humanity have allowed you to do it? Surely you would have said, "Part of it—just a little; you are so kind as to offer me a donation out of your one box of spikenard, let me take a little myself—I must not have it all." But this Prayer of Manasseh , what said he? He said, "Let her do it—I will have it all, substance and fragrance too." And another woman—she might have touched his heart as she came along, for she was poor and poorly clothed, and had on a widow"s weeds—I expected that he would have said, "Poor woman, we cannot take anything from you." No; she came along, took out her two mites, which make one farthing, put them in, and he took them both! Is he man? Is that humanity? Strange man; marvellous exceeding above all other men; not only did he take them, but he said, "She hath done more than anybody else who came up to the treasury; she hath cast in all her living."

Is he doing the selfsame thing in our own day? Verily he is! Look at this family, father and mother, with a boy and a girl as their sweet children. How many things has that boy been in his father"s hopeful dreams! A lawyer and a judge; then a clergyman and a bishop; then a merchant, a politician, a statesman, and a prime minister! But one day the mother says that she feels "something is going to happen"; a vague expression, but full of deep and sad meaning to her own soul. She tells her husband that "something is going to happen," and he smiles at the shapeless and nameless fear. And what does happen? A proposal that the boy should become a missionary! What! the only son? Yes! "It cannot be," says the stunned father; "no, no, it must not be!" For many an hour there is silence; ay, for days next to nothing is said, but many a wistful look is exchanged. At length the mother says, "I have been thinking and praying about this, and I remember that good Mr. Wesley used to open the Bible to see what answer God sent him to his prayers, and I have got my answer today. After prayer I opened the Bible, and my eyes could see no words but these, "Even Song of Solomon , Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight." He must go." The father is silent. A great weight of grief burdens his heart. Hebrews , too, goes to pray—goes a hale man under fifty—comes back in an hour an old Prayer of Manasseh , crushed, blanched, withered, and grey, "but more than conqueror," and Hebrews , too, says the child—the one Song of Solomon , the heir, the first-born—must go. And Christ takes him! Humanity would have spared him when so many large families could have furnished a missionary, but God takes him; the God that took the spikenard and the mites.

It will be curious and interesting now to start a third inquiry to this effect: How did the people who were round about, and who were not malignantly disposed, who constituted the better class of his contemporaries, regard Christ? Here is one typical man—a man of letters and of local renown, careful and exact in speech, somewhat timid in disposition, yet marked by that peculiar timidity which is capable of assuming the most startling boldness. He climbs his way up to Christ, opens the door in the dark, goes up to him, and says in an undertone, lest the enemy should hear—"Rabbi, thou art a teacher come from God." Evidence of that kind must not go for nothing. Send men of another type of mind to him—men of the world, shrewd, keen men. Here are several of them returning from an interview with the Son of God. I hail them in English terms, and say, "Gentlemen, what say you?" "Never man spake like this Man." Add that to the evidence of Nicodemus. Here are women coming back from having seen the Lord; tears are in their eyes. What will they say? Never yet did woman speak one word against the Son of God! Mothers, did you see anything to blame? "Nothing." Women of pure soul—sensitive as keenest life—what saw ye? "The Holiness of God." Pass him on to a judge—cold, dispassionate, observant, not easily hoodwinked. What sayest thou, Roman judge? "I find no fault in him." What is that coming to the man now, while he is talking? A message. What saith the message? It is a message from the judge"s wife. "Have thou nothing to do with this just person, for I have suffered many things this day in a dream concerning him." Let him go—nail his right hand, nail his left hand, nail his feet, lift high the dreadful tree, crush it into the rock, shake every nerve and fibre of his poor body, let him writhe in his last agony, and will anybody speak about him then? Yes. The centurion beholding this, accustomed to the sight of blood, knowing how men deport themselves in judgment halls and in prisons and in the supreme crisis of existence, said—"Truly this Man was the Son of God." Observe what he claimed for himself—what he claimed from others. Put these testimonies of observers one after the other, accumulate them into a complete appeal, and then say whether it be not easier to the imagination and the heart and the judgment to say, "My Lord and my God," than to use meaner terms.

Another question arises: From such a Man what teaching may be expected? Given, a man distinguished by such attributes and elements as I have endeavoured simply to indicate, to find out what kind or manner of teaching and public ministry we may expect from him. I shall first expect extemporaneousness. He cannot want time to make his sermons, or he is not the man he claims to be. He is not an essayist. He will not be a literary speaker; there will be a peculiarity, a uniqueness, a personality about him not to be found otherwhere. Does he retire to his study, that he may write out elaborate sentences full of nothing but ink? Will he come before me as a literary artist, with well-poised sentences, beautiful periods, sounding climaxes, leaving the impression that he has wasted the midnight oil, and taken infinite pains to please those who went to hear him? There is nothing literary about the style of Christ; it is simple, graphic talk, much broken to our minds, occasionally incoherent, rapid in transitions, utterly wanting in elaboration, and the balance prized by men who have nothing else to do than to live by their folly. I shall further expect instantaneousness of reply by Christ Jesus if he be God. God cannot want time to think what he will say. Does this Man ever ask for time; does he ever adjourn the interview? He answers immediately, and he answers finally. He never asks for time to bethink himself, to refer to the authorities, to consult and connote the precedents. He does not say, "You have posed me by an unexpected question; I must retire and give this inquiry my profoundest consideration." Never; and he was but a carpenter. He had just thrown the apron from his waist; he was but a peasant. Rabbinical culture he had none, high connection disdained the mention of his name, and yet there was an instantaneousness about him to which I can find no parallel but in the "Let there be light, and there was light." Give every man credit for his ability; give this Prayer of Manasseh , carpenter and peasant of Galilee, credit for having extorted from his enemies the acknowledgment, "Never man spake like this Man."

What do I find in this Man"s teaching? High allegory, types of things unseen, incarnations of the spiritual, embodiments of the invisible, parables beautiful as pictures, wide as philosophies, lasting as essential truth. Strange man—marvellous productions of a barren soil. Why, he himself was an incarnation. What was his ministry? An incarnation too. What had he to do with the men who heard him, and all succeeding generations? He had to embody, to physicalise and bodily typify the kingdom of God: hence he said, "It is like a grain of mustard seed; like a net cast into the sea; like treasure hid in a field; like leaven hid in three measures of meal." "It is like unto------" when we said that, what did he do? He repeated his own birth. He renewed his own incarnation, he was born again in every parable that escaped his lips. To embody the bodiless, to typify in allegory and figure the infinite and the inexpressible, was the all-culminating miracle of this peasant of Galilee. Then I ask myself, "Is it consistent with all I have heard about him?" And I am compelled to say it is exquisitely in consonance with all we have yet seen of his character and studied of his speech. A man like this coming up from unbeginning time must be extemporaneous in his speech, instantaneous in his reply, and allegorical and typical and symbolical in his method of presenting truth, for he knows the essential, and alone can give it beauty and expression, and movement and colour. Give him the credit due to his power.

Jesus Christ"s is the kind of teaching that survives all the changes of time. It is seminal teaching: it is not like a full-blown garden, it is like treasures of living seeds and roots, and therefore it abides for ever. Where are the grand and stately and polished sermons of the great doctors of the Church? Do you know? I do not. But they were grand, were they not? Why did not you keep them then? But they were stately, majestic, complete, cathedral-like, strong in base, exquisite in pinnacle, almost fluttering in the delicacy of their architecture; indeed, why did not you take better care of them? Where are they? Gone into a stately past—majestic shadows of a majestic oblivion. What lives? Suggestiveness, what is called incoherence, want of finish, want of polish; the great mighty oak, the everlasting Bashan; not the cabinet-makers" pretty and expensive fabrication.

Now I will come to the final point, and it shall be of the utmost severity in its relation to this argument The question I put is this: Did this Man Christ Jesus live up to his own principles? I can imagine persons of a certain kind of mind suggesting that the speeches and parables, and conversations generally of Jesus Christ, conveyed very high theories, very sublime philosophies of things, but were too romantic to be embodied in actual behaviour. The question I press upon you is this, so far as the evidence in the Book goes, Did this Man Christ Jesus embody his own doctrine? What said he? "Bless them that persecute you." Did he do it? Let one of his disciples answer. "When he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not." What said he? "Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Did he do it? One of his historians says that in his last agony he prayed, when he had no hand to stretch out upward to his God, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Is this to go for nothing? Are we at liberty to dismiss this witness, and say he does not know of that which he testifies, or that which he affirms? Be careful, for if you cannot confer a character you have no right to take one away.

I call you to this living Christ; I will try to go nearer to him than ever I have been before; I will call for him to come nearer to me, and I will press still nearer. He knows me, he speaks to me; there is a masonry between us for which you have no word or symbol: a grip of the hand he only can give, a symbol that hath morning in it, and hope and immortality, secret messages, transmissions in cipher which he makes the devil himself bring. Can I give him up? Can I sell him for thirty pieces of silver? Can I exchange him for some other master? Oh, then the sun would bring no morning with it, midday would be but a great black cloud, and the summer a mocking promise without an answer. To whom, then, could I tell my sin; to whom could I pray my prayers; to whom could I empty my heart in darkness and in close and absolute solitude, after I have looked all round the horizon to see even if an angel be there to watch the secret interview? Nay, I must serve him still, preach him still, and if he say to me, "Wilt thou go away?" I will answer in words I cannot amend, "To whom can I go? Thou only hast the words of Eternal Life!"

Plain Speaking

John 8:43-59

This section of Holy Scripture contains a very vivid example or specimen of plain speaking. The frankness would necessitate one of two things: either revenge or submission. We need not tell the name of the speaker in this dialogue. There are no words like the words of Jesus. We might risk the whole Christian controversy upon the tone and scope of this conversation. Let any frank-minded man stand by and listen to the colloquy, and then let him say by the music only where the truth is. We never know what the words of Jesus Christ are until we have laid down our greatest author, and then opened the New Testament. Christ always sounds like a speaker of music, but he sounds the best always after the greatest man has finished; he then proves his deity—not when answering some wild and embittered Jew only, but when following in succession earth"s brightest speaker, earth"s chiefest poet; then do we see his stature. The sayings of Christ are unfathomable. How well he maintains his own if this be taken as merely a dramatic dialogue! How calm he is! How strong in positiveness, how clear in statement, how assured in the possession of every qualification that can dominate the history of men! Yet he surprises us by the use of startling language. We speak of the meek and lowly Jesus; but cannot that claim to meekness and lowliness now be set aside by quotations from Christ"s own speeches? Jesus Christ called the men who were looking at him—when did he speak to absentees like modern preachers?—fools, hypocrites, liars, murderers, thieves, whited sepulchres, wolves in sheep"s clothing, devourers, children of the devil. What wonder that he had not where to lay his head? He might have had a downy pillow could he have talked the other way. Yet this is the meek and lowly Jesus! What wonder that he sent a sword upon the earth, dividing whole families, and making relations strangers and aliens? We have associated a tone of passion in connection with such words as fools, hypocrites, liars. Who could call another man a liar in cold blood, as if he were merely making a remark? We have to be stung into the use of such descriptives. Jesus Christ had not. We should have heard the very tone in which he called men by these dishonouring but accurate names. He was not scolding, merely upbraiding, or trying to exasperate his hearers; he was revealing spirit and character and purpose, and doing it with the calmness of philosophy. We could not call a man a child of the devil without being angry, and our anger would spoil the revelation. Never believe an angry man. It was the solemn, calm, serene manner of the speaker that made the terms so truly awful.

Is it not from the quietest that the severest always issues? Does not lightning leap forth in a time of sullen silence? We praise the majestic tranquillity of Science. Science, unlike Theology, we say, is serene, never ruffled, most tranquil, lake-like in its sunny serenity. Is that true? We might speak of the meek and lowly Science: but Science is the most desperate character that is now abroad. There is nothing so tremendous as the Science which you praise as tranquil, dispassionate, altogether devoid of the odium theologicum which embitters all religious fellowship. Science is very calm, but very murderous. Picture some ancient battle with bows and arrows, with catapults and stones, battering rams and huge cumbrous weapons of war; picture a modern battle-field, with its arms of precision, with its devastating forces: what did it? Calm, impartial, tranquil Science. Look at that ship—torn, shattered, started out of the water, as if a ghost had struck it: what did it? Calm, impartial, tranquil Science concealed a torpedo, and went home to brood upon the ignorance of mankind, and retired to rest with the reputation of being so different from theology, so dispassionate, so tranquil, quite a meek and lowly thing. What tore the building in twain? What frightened the Parliament? What shook the bridge? Science—by nitroglycerine, by dynamite; tranquil, dispassionate, lowly-minded Science, never agitated by her theological tumults, threw the Metropolis into a panic. Science is the greatest murderer known in history. Yet all done so tranquilly, leaving all fighting to be done in the Church.

We must look at this conversation, then, in another light. It comes up from behind Abraham"s time; it looks upon Abraham as a very modern instance. This speech is delivered from the platform of eternity. There is no modern word in it; there is nothing of yesterday"s paint or decoration or enamel about its high eloquence, its sharp glittering rhetoric; it is calm as eternity is calm. Jesus Christ says—

"Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it" ( John 8:44).

This was not spoken in an excited tone. This is a philosophy, not an insult. That is the difference between a man who speaks superficially, and a man who speaks with the background of eternity. How familiarly he speaks of their father, who was a murderer from the beginning! How well he knew ancient history—because there was no history ancient to him. A man who is the contemporary of all ages knows nothing about the meaning, in a technical sense, of what to us is ancient history. He was present at the birth of the devil; he has watched all his tricks and policies ever since he was born,—nay, the devil claims a kind of grim eternity. Jesus Christ thus adopts the principle of heredity, and starts it from a new point, and traces it up with scientific precision. He says, You are not yourselves only, you are a progeny; you had fathers, ancestors, and he takes them into the college of heraldry, and he makes them find out their crest and their motto and their father"s image. "The lusts of your father ye will do." He speaks calmly of this fate. He does not upbraid the men as if they themselves were so much to blame; they express a historical moral necessity. There is a kind of ghastly consistency in their malice and obstinacy and hatred of truth; they keep up the family name well; there is no bar sinister on this diabolical escutcheon unless it be altogether in its very self a bar sinister on the escutcheon of the universe. Would that good men were as consistent as bad men; their consistency might accumulate into a pleasing and conclusive argument. We are worsted by our inconsistency, though the term inconsistency itself is not always fully comprehended and justly applied. Christians can falter a good deal; they have the gift of hesitation, they have the genius of incertitude; they spoil their prayers for want of emphasis.

But if this reading of heredity be true on the one side it will be equally true on the other; hence we have this declaration, completing the former, and giving hope to men—

"He that is of God heareth God"s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God" ( John 8:47).

Here is a mystery which cannot be explained, but it is a plain simple fact. There are some men who cannot be religious, from any point that is obvious to our thinking. There are some ministers who cannot pray; they are scholars, they are expositors, they are earnest men, but they do not know how to pray. "He that is of God heareth God"s words": he that is of music knoweth music when he hears it; he that is a child of art knows the painter"s touch from the daub of the unskilled hand. We are born what we are—musicians, poets, artists, housewives, merchants, lamplighters, journalists, leaders, heroes, cowards,—it is of birth, not of choice. This may seem to ruin a good deal of hope. It does nothing of the kind, properly accepted. Awaken yourselves; who can tell what angel sleeps in your dulness? Who knows what bright spirit has taken up its residence for a time in the hostelry of your soul? Arise, awake, put on thy strength! You cannot tell what you are, until all the awakening ministries have been brought to bear upon your indifference and your obstinacy.

When were deep sayings intelligible to corrupt hearts? The Jews did not understand this man"s speech. They blundered in every remark they made upon it. They continually took it from the wrong end, and they so mingled the words that they lost all their philosophy and all their music. Blessed be God, therefore, that there are men who can teach alphabets. The Beatitudes are mysteries. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." The world heard and passed on to its merchandise, saying that some fanatic had taken possession of the mountain, and was raving there, harmlessly but most incoherently. "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." In that one sentence there is a whole library of the deepest, holiest thinking, an infinite philosophy of life. But the people who listened to Jesus knew absolutely nothing of what he was talking about. When he gave away loaves and fishes his congregation amounted to some thousands; when he began to give away his own flesh, and to hand out in cups of gold his heart blood, his congregation amounted to twelve persons, and even they stood with their backs half to him as if they would go away; in fact, he asked them if they were going. Blessed is he who can talk to men of his own kith—to poets who see a universe through the slot of a single proverb. Jesus Christ never had such hearers in his own day in the flesh, but they are gathering around him now, and calling his sayings ineffable in suggestiveness and sublimity.

The Jews thought they caught Jesus now and then. How little they became! How microscopically small!

"Then said the Jews unto him" (in a tone which can never be reported), "Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death" ( John 8:52).

How can you talk to such men? What interest can you have in men who think that Abraham is dead? There is nobody dead. The Protestant says, What, worship a dead woman, the Virgin Mary! There is no dead woman. That is the mistake we make. Abraham is dead. No, he is not. You are wrong at the foundation. "I am the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob": God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Who can teach this doctrine properly? Who can feel it in all its heavenliness? Who can find house-room in the heart for this immortality? We might dwell long upon this and find it nutritious. To the Jews, people did die. To fools, people die now. There are even people who are wearing mourning. It will be a long day before Christianity kills Paganism. There are Christians who are going out to-morrow to buy mourning. You would not think it possible, but it is a fact. "Abraham is dead, and the prophets": what an empty world they lived in who spake thus! How hollow their voices sounded in the chambers of the past! You can never teach such people anything. They think they are the only living people in the world. No man dies. The little child is not dead; it is like a dewdrop that has gone up to the sun to be used in the fashioning of a rainbow. The friend is not dead; he lives and waits; he is now half out of heaven looking for some of you: do not disappoint him.

"Jesus answered, If I honour myself"—if I have no water but that which flows on the surface, it can be scooped up with a cup and used, drunk at one meal, and there would be nothing afterwards but burning thirst; only that water is sure which comes up out of the rock—spring water, living water, water that the heat can never get at to dry it up. Then Jesus came upon them with a revelation which was too much for their ignorance:—

"Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am" ( John 8:58).

How good it is to come near this divine teacher! How he soothes us and blesses us, yet how he excites and inspires us! When did he say, All things are very little, and not worth looking at? Herein he taught from the other end than that which was adopted by Song of Solomon , because Solomon had bought all his things and he became sick of them. They were connected with bills and invoices, and estimates and valuations and umpires, and final appeals, and when he paid for them he said in effect, Take them where you please; I do not want them. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher. Jesus did not buy them, he made them; he valued them therefore differently. All things were to him suggestive, significant, symbolic. The sparrow, the lily, and the little child, and the ear of corn, and the fig-leaf,—all these were signs of a kingdom infinite. On the other hand, how pitiful it is to be associated with men who always take little views of things, who suppose that Abraham is dead, that Jeremiah is in the cemetery, and Isaiah is in the churchyard, and the minor prophets are all dead and forgotten. What is there, then? Beware of false teaching. But sometimes Jesus Christ could go no further than this; he could only say, Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, of the Herodians: take care how ye hear: many false Christs go about in the world, and many arise to say Christ is here, and Christ is there; go not after them. Then saith an apostle, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God." Sometimes all the very best and bravest teacher can do is to warn his generation, and even sometimes that warning may not be put into words, because it is a warning that comes from the point of instinct, rather than from the point of logic. Do the children remember how this was said to have been proved by an instance in natural history? May we not read it in our children"s books at home? The man you see before you is a king of Persia, and he is devoted to the sport of falconry. Who can tell how many falcons the king has? He has been indulging in this sport hour after hour, and now he is weary and thirsty, and he stands before a dripping rock with his cup in his hand and his falcon on his wrist. He holds the cup to the dripping rock, and slowly catches drip after drip of water that he may quench his thirst. There is a little water in the cup and he will drink it, but as he brings the vessel to his lips the falcon throws out its wings, flutters itself, upsets the cup; and the monarch is angry. He will hold his cup a second time to the dripping rock, and oh, how slowly does it drip, drip, drip! and how hot and burning is his thirst! He fills his cup again, and again applies it to his lips, and again the falcon flutters, and throws out the water; and the king is angry and takes the falcon and dashes it against the rock, and kills the falcon. Presently there comes a servant to the king of Persia, and the enraged king says, Take this cup and go up to where the water is fuller, and fill it for me, and haste back; I die of thirst. The servant climbed the rock, filled the cup; on returning found that the channel of the little stream was intercepted by the head of a great serpent, dead, the foam of whose mouth is carried away by the stream. What was then the monarch"s sorrow! How, then, could the king atone to the dead? By an instinct, which science has not yet explained, the falcon knew that there was death in the pot; by an instinct more than human it ruffled its wings and dashed the death-charged vessel from the king"s hands. The falcon was not heeded, the falcon was slain; the falcon could not speak, could not explain; but the day of explanation came, and the king"s heart grieved for the king"s madness. There are men today who are stifling warning voices. They are thirsty, they must drink; the matter cannot be explained: but preacher, apostle, prophet, seer, poet,—these men are dashed to death or starved. But the day of explanation will surely come.


Verse 42

Jesus Christ"s Claim for Himself

John 8:42

Shall I startle you if I say, notwithstanding the multitude of books written upon the life of Christ, there is yet not only room but necessity for a volume to be written on that unexhausted theme? We have had outward lives of Christ enough, perhaps more than enough: lives that tell us about places and dates and occurrences: books of beautiful colouring, high description of locality and scenery, and the like. All the circumstantial occurrences of the life of the Son of God have been given us with tedious and painful minuteness and repetition by bookmakers of various degrees. What then is this other book we want? A complement, a completion, and an explanation of all other books, viz, "The Inner Life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Not a life of circumstances, but a life of thoughts, purposes, feelings, aspirations, desires; the inward, spiritual, metaphysical, eternal lite of Christ. Can it ever be written? It will be often attempted—it will never be done, for no limited book can exhaust an illimitable subject.

Until we study this inner life of Christ deeply, all the outward life of Christ will be a plague to our intellect and a mortification to our heart: we shall always be coming upon things we cannot understand and cannot explain; not only Song of Solomon , we shall be coming upon things that seem to confront the understanding and to defy the intelligence of men. But if we get into sympathy with the inward spiritual life of Christ, then we shall do what Christ did—move out upon these outward and visible things and see them in their right relations and colours and proportions. The inward always explains the outward; why should it not be so in this greatest case of all? Come to the outward only, and you will have controversy, difficulty, discrepancy, intellectual annoyance, moral surprise, and perhaps spiritual disappointment. But begin at the other end—get to know the man"s soul, get into sympathy with his purpose, see somewhat of the scope and the outlook of his mental nature, and then you will take up the miracles as a very little thing.

Let me now give you, roughly, some hints of the kind of thing that is wanted. Suppose we saw one of the miracles of Christ. So far control your mind as actually to realize that you are present at what was called, in the days of Christ, the raising of the dead. Let us make this as realistic as we can: the dead man is here, the living Christ is here, the mourning friends are here—and presently the dead man rises and begins to speak to us, and we have seen what is called the miracle of resurrection. But now, is it trick or miracle you have seen? Is it an illusion or a fact? How am I to determine this question? I cannot determine it in itself. Why? Because my eyes have been so often deceived. I have seen what I could have declared to have been the most positive and absolute facts, and yet when the explanation has been given I have been obliged to confess that I was deceived and befooled by my own vision. If it has been so in a hundred cases, why not so in this? At all events, there is that suggestion which may be pressed upon me until it becomes a temptation, and the temptation may be urged upon me so vehemently and persistently as almost to shake and destroy my faith. I can declare that I saw a man get up—but the conjurer comes to me and says, "I will show you something equally deceiving." I go, and I see his avowed trick: it does baffle me and surprise me exceedingly, and if he then shall follow up that conquest, and shall say, "It was just the same with what you thought the raising of the dead," he will leave me intellectually in a state of self-torment. I shall still think I saw the event, but he will continue to perplex my vision by a thousand tricks, and show me how impossible it is for any man to trust his eyesight.

Then what am I to do? Leave the outward altogether. Watch the man who performed the miracle—listen to him: if his thoughts are deep and pure, if his mental triumphs are equal to his physical miracles, then admire and trust and love him. Take this same conjurer just referred to. When he is on the stage, and, so to speak, in character, he seems to be working miracles: they are miracles to me. Therefore, indeed, I go to see them, and have no other reason than to be baffled and surprised and confounded, and to have my keenest watchfulness returned to me without the prize which it coveted. His tricks outrun my vision—my eye cannot follow his supple hand. How then? When he comes off the stage and begins to talk on general subjects I begin to feel my equality with him rising and asserting itself. On the stage I could not touch him—watching his hand I could not follow its manipulations at all. But when he comes away from his official character and his professional region, and begins to speak upon subjects with which I am familiar, I sound the depths of his mind, and get the exact measure of his character, and then he becomes clever, artful, surprising, delightful—but only a wizard, only a conjurer: wonderful with his wand in his fingers, nothing without it.

So when I go to Christ as a mere stranger, I see him raising the dead, opening the eyes of the blind, and I say, "We have seen these things attempted before, and very wonderful successes have followed the wand of the wizard and the word of the enchanter. This man may be but cleverest of the host, prince of princes, Beelzebub of the Beelzebubs. I will, therefore, not go further into this case; I have no time to examine this man"s credentials, I must be about another and a higher order of business;" but when he begins to talk I am arrested as by unexpected music. I say to him, "Speak on." His words are equal to his works. He is the same off the platform as on it. Not only do I say, "I never saw it on this fashion before;" but I also say, "I never heard it on this fashion before." I lister to his thoughts, to his purposes, to his desires, and I find that he is as inimitable in his thinking as he is in his working and acting. What then? I am bound to account for this consistency. All other men have been manifest exemplifications of self-inequality. We know clever men who arc fools, strong men who are weak, eloquent men who stammer, men who are great in this direction, small in some other, self-contradictions, self-anomalies; and this want of self-consistency and self-coherence is at once a proof of their being merely men. But if I find a Man in whom this fact of inequality does not exist, who is as great in thinking as in working, who says that if I could follow him still higher I should find him greater in thinking than it is possible for any mere man to be in acting; then I have to account for that consistency which I have met nowhere else, and to listen to this Man"s explanation of it: "I proceeded forth and came from God;" "I am from above;" that explanation alone will cover all the ground which he boldly and permanently occupies.

It will be infinitely interesting to study the inner life of Christ; to make ourselves, so far as possible, as familiar with his thoughts as we are with his works. And if we do this, we shall come to set the same value upon his miracles that he himself did. What value did he set upon his miracles for their own sake? None. When did he ever say, "Behold this mighty triumph of my power, ye sons of men?" Never. When did he sound a trumpet and convoke a mighty host to see the loosing of a dumb tongue, and the opening of a blind eye? Never. When did he ever make anything of his miracles other than something merely elementary and introductory, and of the nature of example and symbol? Never. How was this? Because he was so much greater within than he was without. If he had performed the miracles with his fingers only, he might have been proud of them; but when they fell out of the infinity of his thinking, they were mere drops trembling on the bucket: they were as nothing before him. We might as well follow some poor breathing of ours and say, "Behold, how wonderful was that sighing in the wind!" It is nothing to us, because of the greater life. And these miracles are puzzles, enigmas, confounding surprises to people who will come to Christ, along the line which begins in the outward, in the visible, in the circumstantial. If ever they can get hold of his heart, and speak to him face to face for five minutes, they will feel the heaving of his great sympathetic bosom; they will see the miracles as he saw them, then they will appear to be very little things, momentary spasms, examples to guide children through the grammar of a higher law, mere exemplifications, symbols, types of the infinite and the inexpressible.

It is very remarkable that this Man once said, "Greater works than these shall ye do;" but I will ask you to find a passage in which he ever said, "Greater thoughts than these shall ye think." I cannot find such a passage. You must not forget that in your argument about Christ"s divinity, when he piled up his miracles, raising the dead, opening the eyes of the blind, feeding the hungry miraculously, unloosing dumb tongues and unstopping deaf ears; when he aggregated them all into one sublime spectacle, he said, "Greater works than these shall ye do;" but never did he say, "Greater thoughts than these shall ye think, greater words than these shall ye speak, greater purposes than these shall ye conceive." There he touched the unsearchable riches of his own nature, as in the miracles he pointed to circumstances and to events which would receive larger unfoldment as the ages went on.

Now let us look at this inner life of Christ, from two or three points. I watch this Man day by day, and I am struck with wonder at his amazing power, and the question arises, What is the impelling sense of his duty? Why does he do these things? And he answers, frankly, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father"s business?" Never did prophet give that explanation before. His working from his Father"s point of view, in the light of his Father"s will; it is the paternal element that is moving him. He has given me that as his key; I will put it into every lock of his life to see whether he has entrusted me with the proper key or not. I defy the world to find him wrong as to the use of this key. Put it where you like, the lock answers it; and is no credit to be given to a Speaker who, at twelve years of age, took the key from off his girdle, put it into the hands of inquirers, and told them to go round the whole circle of his life with that key in their hands? He was but a boy when he gave up that key—he was but twelve years old—approaching manhood by Jewish reckoning, but merely a child in years. Can he keep up the high strain? Listen: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." "I and my Father are one." Can he sustain that high key when he is in trouble? Listen: "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." Can he go higher still? Listen: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." O ye who know the modes of music, tell me, is this harmony?- The key-note Isaiah , "Father;" away the Anthem rolls, high as heaven, deep as hell, tortuous as the paths of the forked lightning, and yet with infinite precision it returns to its initial note. Give Christ credit for this. He was but a Galilean peasant; give him what honour is due for preserving his rhythmic consistency through a course, not rugged only, but most tragical and unparalleled.

Arguing from that point, another question suggests itself. If this Man is about his Father"s business, what is his supreme feeling? What answer would you expect to an inquiry like that, after the self-explanation which Jesus Christ has given? Is his supreme feeling a concern for the dignity of the law? Is he jealous with an infinite jealousy for the righteousness of God? Does he come forth from his hiding-place saying, "I am jealous for the holiness of my God; I must vindicate the righteousness of the Unseen and Eternal One?" No. What is the dominant feeling of this Man Christ Jesus? It is named again and again in the New Testament. No change ever occurs in the term, and I will ask you to say how far it corresponds with the first declaration, "Jesus was moved with compassion." Ye musicians, tell me if that be consonant and harmonious? "Wist ye not that I must be about my Fathers business? Jesus was moved with compassion." It was always so; the word "compassion" occurs in no solitary instance alone, though its occurrence in one instance would still have been argument enough. But from beginning to end of his life he is moved with compassion. "Jesus, here are some thousands of people that have been with thee three days and have nothing to eat." Does he wait for us to say that? No. "But Jesus was moved with compassion when he remembered" that the multitudes were in that condition. Coming out once, and looking upon the crowds, "He was moved with compassion, for they were as sheep not having a shepherd." When he was walking after a funeral to the grave, "Jesus wept." And when people came to him they seemed to know this sympathetically, for they said, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon us, have compassion on us, thou Son of God." He speaks like a Song of Solomon , and is thus faithful to a Father"s message.

What explanation does he give of his own miracles? Once he gave us an explanation, as it were, incidentally and unconsciously, but we caught the word, and it saved us from unbelief and explained all mysteries. How was that long-ailing woman cured? "Virtue hath gone out of me." He did not say, "I have performed this with my fingers; this is an act of manipulation which no other man ever learned to do; it was by swiftness and suppleness and dexterity, and by a mysterious flashing of the fingers over certain parts of the affected body." No, but he perceived that virtue had gone out of him. No trickster, but a mighty sympathiser,—no manipulator, but infinite in the exercise and processes of his redeeming power. Whatever he did took something out of him. Behold the difference between the artificial and the real. What did our redemption cost? The healing of one poor sufferer took "virtue" out of him. What did the redemption of the world take out of him when he said, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The last pulse gone. Is he self-consistent still? Still!

And to what are all his triumphs eventually referred? To his Soul. Not to his intellectual ability—not to his skill of finger—not to his physical endurance, but to his Soul—an undefinable term, the symbol of an infinite quantity. "He shall sec of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied." You know the meaning of the word in some degree. One man paints with paint—another paints with his soul. One is a clever mechanic—another an inborn and indestructible genius. One man speaks with his teeth and tongue and palate—another speaks with his soul: they use the same words, but not the same, as Hermon was not the same with the dew off; as the bush was not the same before the fire came into it. You say one man sings artificially, mechanically, correctly—every tone is right; the proper balance, the proper measure, the proper quantity: artificially the exercise is beyond criticism, but still the people sit unmoved. Another man takes up the same words and the same notes, and the people arc stirred like Lebanon by a wind, like Bashan when the storm roars. How is it? The one man is artificial, the other is real—the one man has learned his lesson, the other man had the lesson awakened in him—it was there before, and an angel passed by and said, "It is morning: awake and sing." This Christ, this dear Son of God, shall see of the travail of his soul, of the outgoing of his blood—he sows the earth with the red seed of his blood and he shall see the harvest and be satisfied. He was often wearied with his journeying: when was he wearied with his miracles? His bones were tired: when was his mind enfeebled? The instruments of articulation might be exhausted, but when did the word ever come with less than the old emphasis—the fiat that made the sun?

Let us now ask—What did this man claim for himself? It will assist us in our study if we hear from his own lips a distinct statement of what he does claim on his own account. Reading in the book of Exodus about the great God, I find that he gave his name as "I Amos ," that he amplified that name into, "I AM THAT I AM." We could make nothing of that name; it was too remote for us; our genius had never been in such high regions, never scaled altitudes so perilous. We could therefore but wonder. The name sounded grandly; it had in it all the boom of an infinite mystery, and we were content with it, because the condescensions which that same God made to this human life of ours were so mighty yet so pitiful, so wondrous in their sweep and yet so compassionate in their lingerings that we had begun to think, though the name was mysterious, the grace was familiar enough. A marvellous word was that spoken to Moses—"I AM" it seemed as if it were going to be a Revelation , but suddenly it returned upon itself, came back to its centre, and finished with—"THAT I AM!" As if the sun were just about to come from behind a great cloud, and suddenly, after one dazzling gleam, hide itself behind a cloud denser still. The fulness of the time had not yet come. God"s "hour" was not yet. He had said, "I Amos ," but what he was he did not further say. By-and-by more will be said. It will be interesting, therefore, to inquire whether Jesus Christ connects himself with that mysterious name, "I AM THAT I AM." If I can trace his talking, his thinking, his preaching, so as to find one point in connection between himself and that great name, then a new and large argument will take its inception, and a new and subtle evidence will be put in that this Man was more than man—as mysterious as the Name, perhaps as gracious. Let us see.

I cannot read the life of Christ without constantly coming upon the expression, "I AM." Reading it, I say, I have met these words before, and wonder where. My memory bethinks itself, and I hasten back into the grey old pages of the ancient time, and find that the Lord revealed himself unto Moses as "I AM THAT I AM." I want to know, therefore, if this great ladder, the top of which is in heaven, can by any means find a place upon the earth; can it come down that I may touch it? Yes. Jesus adds to the "I AM" little words, simple earthly words, nursery terms, school ideas—brings down the "I AM" so that we may touch its lower meaning, and hear its earthly messages. It will, then, be most interesting to see how this is done, and to listen to this modified music of the Eternal.

What does Jesus say after the words "I am?" He says everything that human fancy ever conceived concerning strength, and beauty, and sympathy, and tenderness, and redemption. He absorbs the whole. He leaves nothing for you and me except as secondary owners, except as those who derive their status and their lustre from himself. Thus, "I am... the Vine." What a stoop! Could any but God have taken up that figure? Think it out. You have heard it until you have become familiar with it—forget your familiarity, think yourself back to the original line, and then consider that One has appeared in the human race, who says without reservation or qualification of any kind or degree, "I am the Vine." Thus is the mysterious simplified; thus is the abstract turned into the concrete and the inner into the visible, the simple, and the approachable. Will he ever say "I am" again? Many a time. Let us hear him. "I am the Light." Ah, we know what the light is; it is here, and there, and everywhere—takes up no room, yet fills all space; warms the planets, yet does not crush a twig. The "I am" fell upon us like a mighty thundering. "I am the Light" came to us like a child"s lesson in our mother"s nursery. Thus doth he incarnate or embody or personify himself—thus doth the ladder rest in the mean dust, whilst its head is lifted up above the pavilions of the stars.

Will he say "I am" any more? Often. How? Listen: "I am the Door." Dare any but himself have taken upon him so mean a figure? "Ah," said Hebrews , "it is not a mean figure if you interpret it aright. A door is more than deal. A door is more than an arrangement swinging upon hinges. A door is Welcome, Hospitality, Approach, Home, Warmth, Honour, Song of Solomon -ship—I am the Door." Still more: "I am the Bread, I am the Water, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life." When I see how this Man absorbs all beauteous figures, all high and tender emblems, I begin to think that there is nothing left for us by which to distinguish ourselves figuratively and typically. If we take any of these words, they must be taken as with his signature upon them, having a first lien and a prior claim; we are but intermediary and temporary, and altogether subordinate in our stewardship and right of status. How any man could be a man only, and yet take up these figures, it is impossible for me to believe. It is easier for me to say, "My Lord and my God," than to say, "Equal with me; better only in the accidents of the case."

Seeing that Christ claims so much for himself, it will be equally interesting, and will be the complement of the same subject, to start a second inquiry, namely, What does he claim from men? He claims everything. Sometimes in mean mood of soul I have wondered at his divine voracity. For once, a woman came to him who had only one box of spikenard, and he took it all. I was amazed—half distressed. I never saw such impoverishment made before. He did not say, "Give me part of it," but took it every whit, and the woman had no more left of that precious nard. Could you have done that? Would your humanity have allowed you to do it? Surely, you would have said, "Part of it,—just a little; you are so kind as to offer me a donation out of your one box of spikenard, let me take a little myself—I must not have it all." But this Prayer of Manasseh , what said he? He said, "Let her do it—I will have it all, substance and fragrance too." And another woman—she might have touched his heart as she came along, for she was poor and poorly clothed, and had on a widow"s weeds—I expected that he would have said, "Poor woman, we cannot take anything from you." No; she came along, took out her two mites, which make one farthing, put them in, and he took them both! Is he man? Is that humanity? Strange man; marvellous exceeding above all other men; not only did he take them, but he said, "She hath done more than anybody else who came up to the treasury: she hath cast in all her living."

Is he doing the selfsame thing in our own day? Verily he is! Look at this family, father and mother, with a boy and a girl as their sweet children. How many things has that boy been, in his father"s hopeful dreams! A lawyer and a judge; then a clergyman and a bishop; then a merchant, a politician, a statesman, and a prime minister! But one day the mother says that she feels "something is going to happen;" a vague expression, but full of deep and sad meaning to her own soul. She tells her husband that "something is going to happen," and he smiles at the shapeless and nameless fear. And what does happen? A proposal that the boy should become a missionary! What! the only son? Yes! "It cannot be," says the stunned father; "no, no, it must not be." For many an hour there is silence; ay, for days next to nothing is said, but many a wistful look is exchanged. At length the mother says, "I have been thinking and praying about this, and I remember that good Mr. Wesley used to open the Bible to see what answer God sent him to his prayers, and I have got my answer today. After prayer I opened the Bible, and my eyes could see no other words but these: "Even Song of Solomon , Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight." He must go." The father is silent. A great weight of grief burdens his heart. Hebrews , too, goes to pray—goes a hale man under fifty—comes back in an hour an old Prayer of Manasseh , crushed, blanched, withered, and grey, "but more than conqueror," and Hebrews , too, says the child—the one Song of Solomon , the heir, the firstborn—must go. And Christ takes him! Humanity would have spared him when so many large families could have furnished a missionary, but God takes him; the God that took the spikenard and the mites.

It will be curious and interesting now to start a third inquiry to this effect: How did the people who were round about, and who were not malignantly disposed, who constituted the better class of His contemporaries, regard Christ? Here is one typical man—a man of letters and of local renown, careful and exact in speech, somewhat timid in disposition, yet marked by that peculiar timidity which is capable of assuming the most startling boldness. He climbs his way up to Christ, opens the door in the dark, goes up to him, and says in an undertone, lest the enemy should hear—"Rabbi, thou art a teacher come from God." Evidence of that kind must not go for nothing. Send men of another type of mind to him—men of the world, shrewd, keen men. Here are several of them returning from an interview with the Son of God. I hail them in English terms, and say, "Gentlemen, what say you?" "Never man spake like this Man." Add that to the evidence of Nicodemus. Here are women coming back from having seen the Lord; tears are in their eyes. What will they say? Never yet did woman speak one word against the Son of God! Mothers, did you see anything to blame? "Nothing." Women of pure soul—sensitive as keenest life—what saw ye? "The Holiness of God." Pass him on to a judge—cold, dispassionate, observant, not easily hoodwinked. What sayest thou, Roman judge? "I find no fault in him." What is that coming to the man now, while he is talking? A message. What saith the message? It is a message from the judge"s wife. "Have thou nothing to do with this just person, for I have suffered many things this day in a dream concerning him." Let him go—nail his right hand, nail his left hand, nail his feet, lift high the dreadful tree, crush it into the rock, shake every nerve and fibre of his poor body, let him writhe in his last agony, and will anybody speak about him then? Yes. The centurion beholding this, accustomed to the sight of blood, knowing how men deport themselves in judgment halls and in prisons and in the supreme crisis of existence, said—"Truly this Man was the Son of God." Observe what he claimed for himself—what he claimed from others. Put these testimonies of observers one after the other, accumulate them into a complete appeal, and then say whether it be not easier to the imagination and the heart and the judgment to say, "My Lord and my God," than to use meaner terms.

Another question arises: From such a Man what teaching may be expected? Given, a man distinguished by such attributes and elements as I have endeavoured simply to indicate, to find out what kind or manner of teaching and public ministry we may expect from him. I shall first expect extemporaneousness. He cannot want time to make his sermons, or he is not the man he claims to be. He is not an essayist. He will not be a literary speaker; there will be a peculiarity, a uniqueness, a personality about him not to be found otherwhere. Does he retire to his study, that he may write out elaborate sentences full of nothing but ink? Will he come before me as a literary artist, with well-poised sentences, beautiful periods, sounding climaxes, leaving the impression that he has wasted the midnight oil, and taken infinite pains to please those who went to hear him? There is nothing literary about the style of Christ; it is simple, graphic talk, much broken to our minds, occasionally incoherent, rapid in transitions, utterly wanting in all elaboration, and the balance prized by men who have nothing else to do than to live by their folly. I shall further expect instantaneousness of reply by Christ Jesus if He be God. God cannot want time to think what he will say. Does this Man ever ask for time; does he ever adjourn the interview? He answers immediately, and he answers finally. He never asks for time to bethink himself, to refer to the authorities, to consult and connote the precedents. He docs not say, "You have posed me by an unexpected question; I must retire and give this inquiry my profoundest consideration." Never; and he was but a carpenter. He had just thrown the apron from his waist; he was but a peasant. Rabbinical culture he had none, high connection disdained the mention of his name, and yet there was an instantaneousness about him to which I can find no parallel but in the "Let there be light, and there was light." Give every man credit for his ability; give this Prayer of Manasseh , carpenter and peasant of Galilee, credit for having extorted from his enemies the acknowledgment, "Never man spake like this Man."

What do I find in this Man"s teaching? High allegory, types of things unseen, incarnations of the spiritual, embodiments of the invisible, parables beautiful as pictures, wide as philosophies, lasting as essential truth. Strange man—marvellous productions of a barren soil. Why, he himself was an incarnation. What was his ministry? An incarnation too. What had he to do with the men who heard him, and all succeeding generations? He had to embody, to physicalise and bodily typify the kingdom of God: hence he said, "It is like a grain of mustard seed; like a net cast into the sea; like treasure hid in a field; like leaven hid in three measures of meal." "It is like unto"—when he said that, what did he do? He repeated his own birth. He renewed his own incarnation, he was born again in every parable that escaped his lips. To embody the bodiless, to typify in allegory and figure the infinite and the inexpressible, was the all-culminating miracle of this peasant of Galilee. Then I ask myself, "Is it consistent with all I have heard about him?" And I am compelled to say it is exquisitely in consonance with all we have yet seen of His character and studied of His speech. A Man like this coming up from unbeginning time must be extemporaneous in his speech, instantaneous in his reply, and allegorical and typical and symbolical in his method of presenting truth, for he knows the essential, and alone can give it beauty and expression, and movement and colour. Give him the credit due to his power!

Jesus Christ"s is the kind of teaching that survives all the changes of time. It is seminal teaching; it is not like a full-blown garden, it is like treasures of living seeds and roots, and therefore it abides for ever. Where are the grand and stately and polished sermons of the great doctors of the Church? Do you know? I do not. But they were grand, were they not? Why didn"t you keep them then? But they were stately, majestic, complete, cathedral-like, strong in base, exquisite in pinnacle, almost fluttering in the delicacy of their architecture; indeed, why didn"t you take better care of them? Where are they? Gone into a stately past—majestic shadows of a majestic oblivion. What lives? Suggestiveness, what is called incoherence, want of finish, want of polish; the great mighty oak, the everlasting Bashan; not the cabinet-makers" pretty and expensive fabrication.

Now I will come to the final point, and it shall be of the utmost severity in its relation to this argument. The question I put is this: Did this Man Christ Jesus live up to his own principles? I can imagine persons of a certain kind of mind suggesting that the speeches and parables, and conversations generally of Jesus Christ, conveyed very high theories, very sublime philosophies of things, but were too romantic to be embodied in actual behaviour. The question I press upon you is this, so far as the evidence in the Book goes, Did this Man Christ Jesus embody his own doctrine? What said he? "Bless them that persecute you." Did he do it? Let one of his disciples answer. "When he was reviled, he. reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not." What said he? "Pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you." Did he do it? One of his historians says that in his last agony he prayed, when he had no hand to stretch out upward to his God, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Is this to go for nothing? Are we at liberty to dismiss this witness and say he does not know of that which he testifies, or that which he affirms? Be careful, for if you cannot confer a character you have no right to take one away.

I call you to this living Christ; I will try to go nearer to him than ever I have been before; I will call for him to come nearer to me, and I will press still nearer. He knows me, he speaks to me, there is a masonry between us for which you have no word or symbol: a grip of the hand he only can give, a symbol that hath morning in it, and hope and immortality, secret messages, transmissions in cipher which he makes the devil himself bring. Can I give him up? Can I sell him for thirty pieces of silver? Can I exchange him for some other master? Oh, then the sun would bring no morning with it, mid day would be but a great black cloud, and the summer a mocking promise without an answer. To whom, then, could I tell my sin; to whom could I pray my prayers; to whom could I empty my heart in darkness and in close and absolute solitude, after I have looked all round the horizon to see even if an angel be there to watch the secret interview? Nay, I must serve him still, preach him still, and if he say to me, "Wilt thou go away?" I will answer in words I cannot amend, "To whom can I go? Thou only hast the words of Eternal Life!"

Prayer

O that this day we might see the Lord and have our whole mind filled with his light and joy! Lord, dost thou ask us what we would have at thine hands? Our answer Isaiah , Lord, that we might receive our sight! When men cry unto the Lord in their trouble, thou dost deliver them out of their distresses; in this hope we come now before the Lord, and even whilst we speak our hearts feel the burden rising. Sweet is the day of the Lord, quiet and tender in its sacred peacefulness, opening into the very heavens and showing us the New Jerusalem as the city in which we shall no more be threatened by fear and humbled by weariness. For every blessing we offer thee our praise. Thou didst lead us through the solitary way, and thou hast spared us from the shadow of death. Our souls are thine, our bodies are thy habitation. Thou are mindful of us with great care, and thy banner over us is love. O that we knew how to praise thee aright, that our hearts might not suffer pain because of the weariness of our worship. Thy judgments are very terrible, but thy mercies are greater still. Our life is full of the mercy of the Lord, and our days are made bright by his goodness. Lord, let not our feet stray from the path of thy will. Lord, comfort us, encourage our souls in the day of fear, and let our weakness hide itself in thy great power. We lay down our own wisdom as ignorance, and run away from our towers as from defences that will crush the life that built them. We come to Jesus. We stand beside the Saviour. We know the power of his blood. Lord, help us. Lord, send upon us the blessing of thine infinite pardon. Lord, show us the light of thy face. We daily see how great a gift is life; we know it not, we have not seen the divine secret, we feel the pulse beat, but we see not the power by which it is moved. We are our own mysteries. Life itself is a religion. Life is a continual prayer. How weak we are, yet how strong! We cannot just now bear the full daylight, yet we shall pass the sun on our upward way to the glory to come, and his great lustre shall be as a spark vanishing in the ever-enlarging vastness of thy universe. When we think thus of thy kingdom our light affliction is but for a moment. Thy kingdom, Lord, how great, how bright, how strong! May we one and all have a place in that everlasting house. Thy mercy is greater than our prayer, and therefore do we hope even where we cannot reason. Send the gospel to our lost ones, and bring our wanderers home. Visit our sick chambers and whisper to our sick ones the messages of consolation, so that their very weakness may itself become a privilege, and their loneliness become the sanctuary within which thou wilt meet them. We put our own life into thy keeping. We lay aside our own poor help as a temptation, and we accept thy strength as our perfect ability. O thou God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when shall we be wholly swallowed up in thy great love! When will the devil leave us, and none but holy angels be at hand! How long the tempter tarries! He wears out our strength; he lures our fancy; he vexes our prayers; he tortures our very communion with thyself. Jesus of the wilderness, Jesus of Calvary, help us or the enemy will prevail. He is so strong, so swift, so wise; yet we can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us, therefore do we pray—Jesus, save us, or we perish! Amen.

 


Copyright Statement
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on John 8:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/john-8.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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