A Series of Sermons
on the xIvth, xvth, and xvIth Chapters of
St. John's Gospel.
"Let not your heart be troubled."—The twelve were sitting in the upper chamber, stupefied with the dreary, half-understood prospect of Christ's departure. He, forgetting His own burden, turns to comfort and encourage them. These sweet and great words most singularly blend gentleness and dignity. Who can reproduce the cadence of soothing tenderness, soft as a mother's hand, in that "Let not your heart be troubled"? And who can fail to feel the tone of majesty in that "Believe in God, believe also in Me"?
"Come unto Me, all ye that are weary."—Who stood up before the world and, with arms outstretched like that great white Christ in Thorwaldsen's lovely statue, said to all the troop of languid and burdened and fatigued ones crowding at His feet:—"Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"? That surely is a Divine prerogative.
Christ Himself Divine.—The light shines through a window, but the light and the glass that make it visible have nothing in common with one another. The Godhead shines through Christ, but He is not a mere transparent medium. It is Himself that He is showing us when He is showing us God. "He that hath seen Me hath seen"—not the light that streams through Me—but "hath seen, in Me, the Father."
God, outside of Christ, an idea not a reality.—The God Whom men know outside of Jesus. Christ is a poor, nebulous thing; an idea, not a reality; He, or rather It, is a film of cloud shaped into a vague form, through which you can see the stars.
Humanity, its condition.—The state of man in this world is like that of some of those sunny islands in southern seas, around which there often rave the wildest cyclones, and which carry in their bosoms, beneath all their riotous luxuriance of verdant beauty, hidden fires, which ever and anon shake the solid earth and spread destruction. Storms without and earthquakes within—that is the condition of humanity.
Peace.—"The wicked are like the troubled sea which cannot rest." But if I trust, my soul will become like the glassy ocean when all the storms sleep, and "birds of peace sit brooding on the charmed wave." "Peace I leave with you." "Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me."
Sorrow and consolation.—Sorrow needs simple words for its consolation; and simple words are the best clothing for the largest truths.
Heaven, room for all there.—The old rabbis had a tradition which, like a great many of their apparently foolish sayings, covers in picturesque guise a very deep truth. They said that, however many the throngs of worshippers who came up to Jerusalem at the passover, the streets of the city and the courts of the sanctuary were never crowded. And so it is with that great city. There is room for all. There are throngs, but no crowds. Each finds a place in the ample sweep of the Father's house, like some of the great palaces that barbaric Eastern kings used to build, in whose courts armies might encamp, and the chambers of which were counted by the thousand.
Keeping the room.—When prodigal children go away from the father's house, sometimes a heartbroken parent will keep the boy's room just as it used to be when he was young and pure, and will hope and weary through long days for him to come back and occupy it again. God is keeping a room for you in His house; do you see that you fill it.
Christ has opened the gate of heaven.—Old legends tell us of magic gates that resisted all attempts to force them, but upon which, if one drop of a certain blood fell, they flew open. And so, by His death, Christ has opened the gates and made the heaven of perfect purity a dwelling-place for sinful men.
Christ's presence makes heaven a home.—Like some poor savages brought into a great city, or rustics into the presence of a king and his court, we should be ill at ease amidst the glories and solemnities of that future life unless we saw standing there our Kinsman, to whom we can turn, and who makes it possible for us to feel that it is home. Christ's presence makes heaven the home of our hearts.
Death, Christ's minister.—Death is Christ's minister, "mighty and beauteous, though his face be dark," and he, too, stands amidst the ranks of the "ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them that shall be heirs of salvation."
Parted friends and the stars.—Parted friends will fix to look at the same star at the same moment of the night and feel some union; and if we from amidst the clouds of earth, and they from amidst the pure radiance of their heaven, turn our eyes to the same Christ, we are not far apart.
Knowledge only partial.—Be not puffed up with the conceit that you know all. Be sure of this, that, according to the good old metaphor, we are but as children on the shore of the great ocean, gathering a few of the shells that it has washed to our feet, itself stretching boundless, and, thank God! sunlit before us.
Life only in Christ.—Dead men cannot walk a road. It is no use making a path if it starts from a cemetery. Christ taught that men apart from Him are dead, and that the only life that they can have by which they can be knit to God is the Divine life which was in Himself, and of which He is the source and the principle for the whole world.
Christ's power in the heart.—Just as the glad sunny waters of the incoming tide fill the empty places of some oozy harbour, where all the ships are lying as if dead and the mud is festering in the sunshine, so into the slimy emptiness of our corrupt hearts there will pour the flashing sunlit wave, the ever-fresh rush of His power; and everything will live whithersoever it cometh, and we shall be able to say in all humility, and yet in glad recognition of Christ's faithfulness to this His transcendent promise, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me," "because the life which I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God."
Christ the way.—The rails upon which the train travels may be rigid, but they mean safety, and they carry men smoothly into otherwise inaccessible lands. So the life of Jesus Christ brought to us is the firm and plain tract along which we are to travel; and all that was difficult and hard in the cold thought of duty becomes changed into the attraction of a living pattern and example.
Power, not Law.—Here stand all your looms, polished and in perfect order, but there is no steam in the boilers; and so there is no motion, and nothing woven. What we want is not law, but power. And what the Gospel gives us, and stands alone in giving us, is not merely the knowledge of the will of God, and the clear revelation of what we ought to be, but it is the power to become it.
Christ's love a tincture.—The colouring matter put in at the fountain will dye every drop of the stream; and they whose inmost hearts are tinged and tinctured with the sweet love of Jesus Christ, from their hearts will go forth issues of life all coloured and moulded thereby.
Believe—love—obey.—The ladder that is fixed upon earth and has its summit in heaven has for its rungs, first and bottommost, "believe"; second, "love"; third, "obey."
Transfused blood.—Men's lives have been prolonged by the transfusion of blood from vigorous frames. Jesus Christ passes His own blood into our veins, and makes us immortal. The Church chose for one of its ancient emblems of the Saviour the pelican, which fed its young, according to the fable, with the blood from its own breast. So Christ vitalizes us. He in us is our life.
Precious relics.—Some of us, perhaps, have laid away in sacred, secret places tattered, yellow, old bits of paper with the words of a dear one on them, that we would not part with. "He that hath My commandments" laid up in lavender in the deepest recesses of his faithful heart, he it is "that loveth Me."
Love and commands—There are two motives for keeping commandments—one because they are commanded, and one because we love Him that commands. The one is slavery, the other is liberty. The one is like the Arctic regions, cold and barren; the other is like tropical lands, full of warmth and sunshine, glorious and glad fertility.
Love, not mere sentiment.—The love that Christ stamps with His hall-mark, and passes as genuine, is no mere emotion, however passionate, however sweet; no mere sentiment, however pure, however deep The tiniest little dribble that drives a mill is better than a Niagara that rushes and foams and tumbles idly.
God's love a moral love.—God's love is a moral love; and whilst the sunbeams play upon the ice and melt it sometimes, they flash back from, and rest more graciously and fully on, the rippling stream into which the ice has turned. God loves them that love Him not, but the depths of His heart and the secret, sacred favours of His grace can only be bestowed upon those who in some measure are conformed, and are growingly being conformed, to His likeness in Jesus Christ, and who love Him and obey Him.
Sympathy the parent of true knowledge.—Sympathy is the parent of all true knowledge of one another. They tell us in the foolish old proverb that "love is blind." No! There are not such a pair of clear eyes anywhere as the eyes of love; and if we want to see into a man, the first condition is that we feel kindly towards him. Sympathy is the parent of insight into persons, as Obedience is the parent of insight into duty.
Obedience.—In the last hours of the Holy City, there was heard by the trembling priests amidst the midnight darkness the motion of departing Deity, and a great voice said, "Let us depart hence"; and tomorrow the shrine was empty, and the day after it was in flames. Brethren, if you would keep the Christ in Whom is God, remember that we cannot be kept but by the act of loving obedience.
Christ's love and praise.—It was only the rising sunbeam that could draw music from the stony lips of Memnon, as he gazed out across the desert, And it is only when Christ's love shines on our faces that we open our lips in praise, and move our hands in service.
Christ's touch.—Those great rocking-stones down in Cornwall stand unmoved by any tempest, but a child's finger, put at the right place, will set them vibrating. And so the heavy, hard, stony bulk of our hearts lies torpid and immovable, until He lays His loving finger upon them, and then they rock at His will.
Christ's works.—This Carpenter of Nazareth has reached the heights which the greatest thinkers and poets of the past have never reached, or only in little snatches and fragments of their words. His words open out, generation after generation, into undreamed-of wisdom, and there are found to be hived in them stores of sweetness that were never suspected until the occasion came that drew them forth.
Christ's teaching.—All other teachers' words become feeble by age, as their persons become ghostly, wrapped in thickening folds of oblivion; but the progress of the Church consists in absorbing more and more of Christ, in understanding Him better, and becoming more and more moulded by His influence.
Christ's attractive power.—There is one power, and only one, that can draw after it all the multitudinous heaped waters of the weltering ocean, and that is the 2 quiet silver moon in the heavens, which pulls the tidal wave, into which melt and merge all currents and small breakers, and rolls it round the whole earth. And so Christ, shining down lambent, and gentle, but changeless from the darkest of our skies, will draw, in one great surge of harmonized motion, all the else contradictory currents of our stormy souls. "My peace I give unto you."
Peace in the midst of storm.—Storms may break upon the rocky shore of our islanded lives, but deep in the centre there will be a secluded, inland dell "which heareth not the loud winds when they call," and where no tempest can ever reach. Peace may be ours in the midst of warfare and of storms, for Christ with us reconciles us to God, harmonizes us with ourselves, brings us into amity with men, and makes the world all good.
Isolation of human lives.—How awful and impassable is the isolation in which each human soul lives! After all love and fellowship we dwell alone on our little island in the deep, separated by "the salt, unplumbed, estranging sea," and we can do little more than hoist signals of goodwill, and now and then for a moment stretch our hands across the "echoing straits between."
The world's peace.—The peace that earth gives is a poor affair at best. It is shallow; a very thin plating over a depth of restlessness, like some skin of turf on a volcano, where a foot below the surface sulphurous fumes roll, and hellish turbulence seethes. That is the kind of rest that the world brings.
Peace:—A Highland scene.—I remember once standing by the side of a little Highland loch, on a calm autumn day, when all the winds were still, and every birch tree stood unmoved, and every twig reflected on the steadfast mirror, into the depths of which Heaven's own blue seemed to have found its way. That is what our hearts may be, if we let Christ put His guarding hand round them to keep the storms off, and have Him within us for our rest. But the man who does not trust Jesus is like the troubled sea which cannot rest, but goes moaning round half the world, homeless and hungry, rolling and heaving, monotonous and yet changeful, salt and barren—the true emblem of every soul that has not listened to the merciful call, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Christ's sensitive nature.—Christ's sensitive nature apprehends the approach of the evil thing, as some organisations can tell when the thunderstorm is about to burst. His Divine Omniscience, working, as it did, even within the limits of humanity, knows not only when the storm is about to burst upon Him, but knows who it is that has raised the tempest. And so He says, "The Prince of this world cometh."
Christ the true vine.—"I am the true vine," of which the material one to which He points is but a shadow and an emblem. The reality lies in Him. We shall best understand the deep significance and beauty of this thought if we recur in imagination to some of those great vines which we sometimes see in royal conservatories, where for hundreds of yards the pliant branches stretch along the espaliers, and yet one life pervades the whole, from the root, through the crooked stem, right away to the last leaf at the top of the farthest branch, and reddens and mellows every cluster. So, says Christ, between Me and the totality of them that hold by Me in faith there is one life, passing ever from root, through branches, and ever bearing fruit.
Pruning.—Were you ever in a greenhouse or in a vineyard at the season of cutting back the vines? What flagitious waste it would seem to an ignorant person to see scattered on the floor the bright green leaves and the incipient clusters, and to look up at the bare stem, bleeding at a hundred points from the sharp steel. Yes! But there was not a random stroke in it all, and there was nothing cut away which it was not loss to keep and gain to lose; and it was all done artistically, scientifically, for a set purpose—that the plant might bring forth more fruit.
Stranded.—Some poor stranded sea-creature on the beach, floundering in the pools vainly, is at the point of death; but the great tide comes, leaping and rushing over the sands, and bears it away out into the middle deeps for renewed activity and joyous life. Let the flood of Christ's life bear you on its bosom, and you will rejoice and expatiate therein.
Separation from Christ.—Separation is withering. Did you ever see a hawthorn bough that children bring home from the woods, and stick in the grate; how in a day or two the little fresh green leaves all shrivel up and the white blossoms become brown and smell foul, and the only thing to be done with it is to fling it into the fire and get rid of it? And so, says Jesus Christ, as long as a man holds on to Me and the sap comes into him, he will flourish, and as soon as the connection is broken, all that was so fair will begin to shrivel, and all that was green will get brown and turn to dust, and all that was blossom will droop, and there will be no more fruit any more for ever. Separate from Christ, the individual shrivels, and the possibilities of fair buds wither and set into no fruit. And no man is the man he might have been unless he holds by Jesus Christ and lets His life come into him.
Obedience and love.—The obedience which we render for love's sake will make us more capable of receiving, and more blessedly conscious of possessing, the love of Jesus Christ, The lightest cloud before the sun will prevent it from focussing its rays to a burning point on the convex glass. And the small, thin, fleeting, scarcely visible acts of self-will that sometimes pass across our skies will prevent our feeling the warmth of that love upon our shrouded hearts.
Enemies changed into friends.—There is an old wild ballad that tells of how a knight found, coiling round a tree in a dismal forest, a loathly dragon breathing out poison; and how, undeterred by its hideousness and foulness, he cast his arms round it and kissed it on the mouth. Three times he did it undisgusted, and at the third the shape changed into a fair lady, and he won his bride. Christ "kisses with the kisses of His mouth" His enemies, and makes them His friends because He loves them.
Churches and sects.—In the early spring, when the wheat is green and young, and scarcely appears above the ground, it comes up in the lines in which it was sown, parted from one another and distinctly showing their separation and the furrows. But, when the full corn in the ear waves on the autumn plain, all the lines and separations have disappeared, and there is one unbroken tract of sunny fruitfulness. And so when the life in Christ is low and feeble, His servants may be separated and drawn up in rigid lines of denominations, and churches, and sects; but as they grow the lines disappear.
Whom having not seen ye love.—There is nothing in the whole history of the world the least like that strange bond which ties you and me to Jesus Christ, and the paradox of the Apostle remains a unique fact in the experience of humanity: "Jesus Christ, whom, having not seen, ye love." We stretch out our hands across the waste, silent centuries, and there, amidst the mists of oblivion, thickening round all other figures in the past, we touch the warm, throbbing heart of our Friend, who lives for ever, and for ever is near us. We here, nearly two millenniums after the words fell on the nightly air on the road to Gethsemane, have them coming direct to our hearts. A perpetual bond unites men with Christ to-day; and for us, as really as in that long-past Paschal night, is it true, "Ye are My friends."
Christ's friends.—Friends of a friend should themselves be friends. We care for the lifeless things that a dear friend has cared for; books, articles of use of various sorts. If these have been of interest to him, they are treasures and precious evermore to us. And here are living men and women, in all diversities of character and circumstances, but with this stamped upon them all—Christ's friends, lovers of and loved by Him.
Christian and worldly maxims.—In the measure in which you and I are Christians we are in direct opposition to all the maxims which rule the world and make it a world. What we believe to be precious it regards as of no account. What we believe to be fundamental truth it passes by as of little importance. Much which we feel to be wrong it regards as good. Our jewels are its tinsel, and its jewels are our tinsel. We and it stand in diametrical opposition in thought about God, about self, about duty, about life, about death, about the future; and that opposition goes right down to the bottom of things. However it may be covered over, there is a gulf, as in some of those American cañons: the towering banks may be very near—only a yard or two seems to separate them; but they go down for thousands and thousands of feet, and never get any nearer each other, and between them at the bottom a black, sullen river flows.