The Light of the World
A Panorama of the Way of Christ
2 - He knows all men
"He knew all men. … He knew what was in man" (John 2.24,25).
It is a peculiar fact that men and women do not know each other. The partial knowledge of human nature is responsible for much misunderstanding, bad feeling, pain and disappointment. Suspicion, jealousy, lack of trust, repression of affection, poison and destroy what might be otherwise happy human relationships. Sometimes the faulty are exalted and the worthy set aside. Deceived, disillusioned and doubtful, the greater proportion of mankind flows on its way never knowing what qualities, what thoughts or yearnings, what affections lie in the minds of all about them. The true self, hidden, inarticulate, or lacking opportunity is rarely revealed in its fulness.
While exploring, man has invented many sorts of seeing eyes. We can probe the vastness of celestial dominions, magnify the minute, penetrate solid substances but the human eye is unable to penetrate the hearts and minds, the motives and character of those with whom they are chiefly and often most closely concerned. Not only do people deceive each other they deceive themselves. The power to see and know each other as we truly are, might save a lot of trouble. A few lines written by a Scottish poet express the view
"Oh wad some power the gif tie gie us
To see ourselves as others see us
It wad framony a blunder free us
An' foolish notion."
Here is the constantly recurring problem. If only we had a true knowledge of other people, life would be sweeter. If only we had a truer knowledge of ourselves we might live more profitably, doing well the thing we can do. There are, in a way, three selves in every person, the self seen by self, the self seen by others and the self God sees. Only the self seen by the eye of the Spirit is the true one.
That is the one which, put unreservedly into the hands of God, can be trained, schooled and disciplined, its faults eradicated, its talents developed, its weaknesses strengthened, its finest qualities gradually unfolded, until a whole new personality emerges, equipped and poised to play a useful part in life. God has taken hold of the weak things of the earth to confound the mighty. It is a tribute to faith and the working of invisible forces in human life, that confusion, weakness, wantonness and all other evils by which human nature is beset, have been overcome in a life put into the care of the Great physician, who knows what is in man. He knows the depths of doubt and despair, the pressure of events and the limitations of human judgement.
Then, if pilgrims would know peace, the self-knowledge that frees from the blunders of conceit, the self-confidence that comes from a sure repose in unerring wisdom, it is to God and to Christ they should turn for instruction. The illusions of the world will fade before the brighter realities of the City of God. Patience, understanding, tolerance and love will more and more replace the doubts, suspicions and distrust of its inhabitants. "You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness to me" (John 5.39 RSV).
Books are a synonym for knowledge. The world's massive stores of literature provide a reservoir of information for the inquiring mind. Those who study or any who wish to know something about one particular subject, look it up in books. Books have become an essential part of life, yet for all their well packed pages they have not and cannot produce life. They are only pointers directing attention, or keys unlocking further reserves of instruction. The sacred Scriptures were to the Jews the source of all truth, the text book of rules, the manual of laws, the revelation of God and the prophetic guide-book to the future. They had entered into a dispute with Jesus over the healing of a lame man on the Sabbath day. This good deed was not according to the Law. It angered the formalists, not that a man should show mercy but that he should set aside the written rules. They observed the words but not the spirit of the words, as St. Paul was later to say, "the letter kills but the spirit gives life".
The disputers, like many more since, set great store on what was written in the books. Jesus told them to search their books, to discover their true meaning. A formal adherence to these sanctified writings had no life-giving effect. It was an illusion to think that they had. From beginning to end the Scriptures, by their historical narrative, their recorded laws, their prophetic utterances, pointed forward to a Person, a living Word who would be far greater than the written word, by His deeds He would demonstrate His power of life. He who could heal the sick was greater than the book, however hallowed, as He who by His deeds fulfilled the spirit of the law was greater than the law. Christianity was not founded upon a book but upon a Person, the man Christ Jesus. Since His day, books by the million have been expressing a wide variety of views, giving interpretations and theologies over which men have wrangled, debated and fought with stubborn certainty and intolerant bigotry. The book invariably produces the creed and the creed the sect, while Christ and the spirit of Christ are lost sight of in a welter of words, in empty ritual and formal lip- service.
The written word is still searched and studied, as though the printed page contained some life-giving power. Authors of great books as well as the books they have produced are regarded with reverential awe, as minds incapable of error, while still there stands the One who is greater than all the books, who declared himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus eclipses all books, for in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Books instruct and educate but they do not have all the answers to the vast problems of life. Knowledge passes away; what was new last year will be old next year. Even the Book of books, the world's best seller, is only a valuable collection of ancient words unless the reader of its pages is led by the Spirit to link his life with its central figure, Jesus Christ, and to place his unshaken trust in the Living God.
The Bible makes a strong person to person appeal. "Look unto me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God and there is none else." "Without me you can do nothing." "My word shall not pass away till all shall be fulfilled." I, Me and Mine predominate the sacred pages. The living, life-giving all powerful personages are greater than the book. The printed page may teach and inspire but it is to Christ that all must look for life. "On Christ the solid rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand." "How can you believe which receive honour one of another and seek not the honour which comes from God only" (John 5.44).
Civilized society has always had a strong mental inclination for titles. Men bow before lords and bend before kings for no other reason than that they bear illustrious names. 'Your grace', 'your Excellency' and 'your majesty' have a ring to them which titillates the vanity of those who wear them and those who court their favour. To be tapped on the shoulder by a monarch or to be patted on the back by a high sounding name, to be given a title of any sort, is an honour and distinction sought after and cherished by the ambitious and discerning sons of men.
Had Jesus come to the world of His day with a fine title or a row of scholarly letters after His name, He would have been received with honour and listened to with rapt attention, even though what He said might not have been worth listening to. Coming as He did, without pomp or ceremony, from a village carpenter's shop, even though His deeds showed astonishing power and His words were weighty with truth and wisdom, He was not received except by the poor who heard Him gladly. He knew what was in man, the trend of the human heart towards honours and titles and the high places and toward fine raiment and wealth and the respect which these things win from the fawning and the gullible. They see only the outward show and He knew they could not believe on Him as the sent of God, who had none of these things. He made Himself of no reputation. Simplicity was the key-note of His life. He called on His hearers to "Learn of Me for I am meek and lowly of heart". The only title He ever bestowed upon Himself was 'Son of Man'. To Him a man was a man, no more and no less. The titles and honours by which they set such store were only trappings. It was not what a man had but what a man was, that was the core of His teachings and example.
The Scottish poet who wrote "The rank is but the guinea stamp; the man's the gold for all that" was but expressing the essence of that teaching which set at nought the mighty. They sought after the perishing glories of this world but He exalted the humble and meek to the glory of the sun and the brilliance of the stars in the kingdom of God. The kingdoms and empires of earth pass away. The pomp and vanities of the world perish. Kings and lords return to the dust as does the pauper and the outcast of a proud society seeking the dazzling prizes and the glittering places for a few brief years. How transitory are all these things when weighed in the balances with eternal life. How few and how rare the discerning souls who in Christ and through Him have seen the invisible treasure, have glimpsed a kingdom that is yet to come, which will overthrow and outlast all the unsatisfactory kingdoms of men.
He who sought no honours at the hands of men, who came without a title, who elected to be homeless, who found His friends among the poor, who consorted with sinners and laid His hands upon those with leprosy, is yet to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords over the nations and before Him every knee shall bow. Those true followers of His, that little band of pilgrims who have followed Him in every age, despised, persecuted, obscure, unknown, their qualities and worth like His, unguessed at by the indifferent world, what shall their name and place be then? To be called the sons of God, the brethren of Christ, will be greater honour than this world can bestow. Its best baubles will be poor beside that pearl of great price.
'This is the work of God that you believe on him who he has sent" (John 6.29). Works versus belief. This was the theme on which the inquiring people sought information as they followed Jesus round the shore of Galilee. He had by now healed their sick and fed the hungry multitudes with bread. Looking upon them with that penetrating wisdom which saw through their seeming eagerness, to their real motives. He faced them with themselves as they were, seekers after personal gain. Their interest lay no deeper than the need of the moment. Their desire to please God or fit themselves for the future was superficial. Life was full of confusing issues. Few had recognised in Christ the greater than Moses, or had grasped the idea that there might be more to living than bread and temporary freedom from pain and anxiety. The certainties of life were more real and urgent than the uncertainties of faith. Everlasting life was a nebulous future beyond the reach of the average mind concerned with lesser things. Nevertheless the idea of pleasing God, of being on the right side of improvement, of any possible advantage, did strike a chord. What had they to do, what works did God desire of them?
Here was the touch-stone, the standard, the requirement which brought man into harmonious relationship with his Maker. Not works of the hands but of the mind, belief, a strong belief that Jesus was sent to them from God. He had given them bread in the wilderness as God had given their fathers manna in the desert but still they doubted His credentials. They would see some other work. When no work was forthcoming, when faith and acceptance was expected of them both in His power and authority to grant them ages of life, they murmured and made difficulties. In the end they were offended that one man should make such claims for Himself, that He should demand and expect their belief in Him as the long awaited One.
Had he asked of them a busy activity, an outward service, no doubt they would have done something. To believe was a different matter. So St. Paul says that the people of Israel failed to attain the gift of God because they sought it not by faith but by works of the law. They could not believe and they lost the boon and blessing of life. Works have provided the same stumbling stone down the centuries since that day on which Jesus declared Himself the living bread that came down from Heaven. It has become a common illusion that the Christian must work His passage to Heaven. There must be something to do, something to offer. Engagement in some frenzied activity or even a courted martyrdom have seemed to the work-minded, the passport to heavenly realms and honours. In the midst of much misguided zeal these Christian candidates have lost sight of the central Figure. Whatever else they have believed in they have not believed in Him, for His Spirit has been lamentably absent from many deeds done in the name of Christ.
That whole-hearted belief, that heart-winning love which quietly waits, which meekly gives itself to discipline, to sanctification and transformation, from the image of the earthy imperfect man into the likeness of the Son of God, is a rare frame of mind that has in it the imperishable seed of life. It has the Lord's "Verily, Verily. He that believes on me has everlasting life. I am the living bread."
"Break thou the bread of life, O Lord to me
As thou didst break the loaves beside the sea,
Beyond the sacred page I seek thee Lord,
My spirit pants for thee, O living Word."
(To be continued)