The Light of the World
A panorama of the way of Christ
3- "I've found a Friend"
He that comes to me I will never turn away (John 6.37)
It is a great thing to have a friend we can be sure of at all times and in all circumstances. It is a hard thing to be turned away in a time of need from a once hospitable door. A sad thing to expect a welcome and find a frown, a tragic thing to be betrayed by trusted hands, to be left neglected, forlorn and forgotten by those to whom we have looked with affection. Such is the fickleness of human nature that men and women are often let down and cast aside in the time of their greatest need by those to whom they had the most right to look for shelter and support. Surrounded by a sample of mixed humanity, Jesus gave His pledge of reliable friendship. This was He of whom it was written "The same, yesterday, today and forever". His pledge is as good today as it was then. In moments of perplexity and despair, at times of great crisis, when there is nowhere to go and none to rely on, there is always that One ready to listen to the faintest call for help. Unseen but ever ready, the power of the Spirit draws, enfolds and strengthens the weary, stimulates faith and courage, planting in the mind the mystic wisdom which overcomes the world, the flesh and all its hazards and weakness.
"There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18.24). This is He who became man that He might experience the sorrows, the sufferings, the labours and the temptations of man. The Scriptures are full of invitation and promise. Here God is revealed as the Rock of strength, the Tower of man's defence. Jesus appears full of love and assurance, the sympathetic high priest, with all the gifts of healing love. From that day to this, grateful saints have sung their songs of praise and way-worn pilgrims have given thanks for deliverance and victories, for every need abundantly supplied. If there are some who have no song to sing, no tale to tell, it is because they had doubts and not belief. It is because they have turned away offended or lacked the courage to reach out across the thin dividing line between this world and God's world, to clasp the hand Divine. How much is missed, how much is lost in this life by the sceptic, the self-sufficient, the wavering and fluctuating. Yet a patient, unchanging love waits on, ready with the blessings that enrich life, adding no sorrow with them. "Come unto me all you that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest", was not spoken to a few or for a generation but to all people for all time. God draws fainting bewildered humanity to this haven of His love. When the urge and pressure of the Spirit is not resisted, Jesus receives, and the soul that finds its repose in the Everlasting Arms is never forsaken.
"He that believes on me has everlasting life" (John 6. 47). It is common for the cynical to refer to everlasting life as "pie in the sky when you die". Jesus, in offering life to those around him, said nothing about heaven. He was talking of everyday living, of the quality of life in the place where they were. Their ancestors had eaten the manna provided as daily bread in their wilderness wanderings but it had not kept them alive. Jesus said that unless they shared His life they had no life in them. Life and love are synonymous terms. They are not something you get "in the sky when you die", they are something we have or have not, here and now. Looking around Him, Jesus saw a weary, overburdened, confused gathering of people whose span of years was short. He offered the weary rest and the heavy-laden a lighter yoke. He offered the bread and water of life to a dying people, knowing Himself to be the channel of that eternal energy which is the gift of God to those who believe on Him and on Jesus Christ whom He sent into the world as an exact resemblance of Himself. Life eternal is to know God and He is love. Life, light and love are so inextricably mingled together they cannot be separated. The Light of the world, the Bread of Life, the Love that passes knowledge, are the very substance and essence of God and His anointed Son. It is their very nature, and those who at their invitation believe and accept, share this nature; they become absorbed into the light, the love and the life. He that loves, dwells in God. He shares a new life. A new energy throbs through his whole being. Even when the life of the flesh ceases, the treasure of life cannot be lost but is renewed according to promise in a fairer and better form. All rests on belief, not on scientific theories, religious theologies or eastern mysticism. It is belief in Jesus Christ as the only name, the only way, the only source known in heaven or on earth or given by God, through which abundant, age-lasting life can be obtained. Apart from this the only life known to man is short, full of troubles and perplexities. The life of God has its own sustaining riches which compose those spiritual elements of wisdom, mercy, peace, purity, gentleness and all the moral virtues and principles which are diamond bright and indestructible. Without these and without faith, life lived in idle indulgence, for the pleasures of the moment, delighting in all that is avaricious and superficial can be cut shorter. It is a shallow, unsatisfactory existence that in moments of sanity fill its most ardent pursuers with discontent. To know the joys of loving and giving, to feel within the uplifting surge of energy, confidence, vision, purpose, peace and repose amid the world's noisy conflicts, is to have that life which Jesus offered freely to those who believed in His word and person.
At the conclusion of this serious discourse on belief, life and the true work of the mind as opposed to those of ritual or work, many turned away. Bound by sect and ceremony, liking only outward observances of faith and worship, it was too much to forsake these and believe in this teacher and His claims. They did not come again to hear His words of grace. They had loved their own darkness, their own confused ideas and the traditions of men rather than the light which shone on them or the life at which they had shrugged their shoulders in disdain. Despised and rejected, Jesus turned to the inner circle of His followers with the question, "Will you also go away? ". It was not so much a test of loyalty to Himself as the provision of an opportunity for withdrawal of any of the chosen few from His company. Peter spoke up for the little band with the question "To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life". The incident reflects the varying attitudes of men and women towards the Christian faith through twenty centuries of its history. Belief is a personal matter. Intelligent people search for life, for enlightenment for better conditions, for solutions to all human problems, for peace of mind and social security. They conduct through reading, religion, travel and debate, what is called the search for truth but they will look anywhere but in the right direction. The philosophies of man are numerous, the formulas of faith many. The Christian churches, divided in opinion, pay homage to human leaders, use differing styles of worship, are concerned about numbers and great works. Jesus, with His gift of life and work of belief, His spirit of love and tolerance, seem strangely absent. Multitudes have listened and turned away, refusing to buy, without money and without price, the water and wine of life. These are content to live without hope, to idly speculate or to form a personal creed. There is no satisfying fountain of living water to refresh the thirsty traveller, to send him on his pilgrim way, restored and confident. As Jesus said to the seekers about him, "You will not come to me that you might have life". Anything, anywhere and anyone but Christ, has been the attitude of those who have loved self and this world more than God. Those who have looked upon Him with clear eyes, who have listened to His words with a true ear, have recognised in Him as Saviour, the means of reconciliation with God. Whatever of wisdom other men offered the race, no other man offered them life or claimed to be the Son of God, the Saviour of mankind. It is a claim acknowledged by heaven, by angels, by men and by the evil spirits He drove out from their secret places. They knew him as did Peter. "You have the words of eternal life." and "We believe and are sure that you are the Christ, the son of the living God." There is no other source, no other name, no other authority. Without that steadfast anchor in Him, the life-giving Son of God, life is a mere existence between the cradle and the grave. With Him it is a pilgrimage of grace to the everlasting kingdom of God.
My time is not yet come. Your time is always ready" (John 7.6). The world is always ripe for mischief. There are unruly elements who only need a hint to send them off on hasty feet to stir up trouble, to commit some deed of violence or destruction. Those who refrain from saying or doing what is good because the time is not right, have mature wisdom and will power. The restraints of Jesus are often overlooked. In one to whom all power in heaven and earth had been entrusted He showed remarkable control of its use. He might have done spectacular deeds. He could have become a crowned monarch as the rightful heir of David's throne. He could have saved himself from the final agony of trial and death. He could have answered the jeers of the malicious priests, mocking Him in their triumph. He could have called legions of angels to His aid to confound Pilate but He did none of these things. Had He been a man seeking His own glory He would have done so. He would have shown that generation something that would have shattered their pride and unbelief but His time had not yet come. The sick were healed, blind eyes were opened, deaf ears were unstopped, the dead were restored to life. Nature was stimulated or calmed at His word and the lame leaped for joy, yet these convincing evidences were not enough for hearts frigid with pride or hot with envy. Because He had set a man on his feet on the Sabbath day His enemies were ready to take His life. Day and night, at any moment evil lurks among men, ever ready to leap upon some enemy. Goodness choose its times, waiting patiently, wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove, gentle as a lamb yet bold as a lion as it pursues its way through the mazes of this world. The times and methods of God are not according to human reasoning. There is always the element of surprise, the unexpected, as He works out His sovereign purpose. Jesus had come to further that purpose. He worked according to God's plan. He could not take His own way or follow His own ideas. A wrong word, a false move, even the right thing at the wrong time would have wrecked the work He had come to accomplish. In His entire ministry there was no rash action, no word that His foes could seize upon as false. Their efforts to trip Him up ended in their own discomfort. When they wanted to accuse Him they had to bribe false witnesses. His was a nature school and disciplined for the glory of God and the greatest service to humanity. In nothing did He seek His own interests. The priests in their mockery spoke truly". He saved others, himself he cannot save". Had He come down from the cross at their behest the race He came to save would have been doomed to extinction. His time had not yet come. They had their hour of evil victory. His hour was still to come.
Looking upon His example of meekness and strength, Christian pilgrims have secured the armour of faith more carefully about them. They have gone forth, girded in silence against the sneering taunts of ignorance, bearing with quiet dignity the contempt of lesser minds. The time has not yet come to take the crown. The world has the advantages of pomp and vanity. When the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of Christ, His time will have fully come to rebuke and judge the nations.
"Man of sorrows! What a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim
Hallelujah! What a Saviour."
Great store is set on education. The scholar has always commanded respect by the possession and use of knowledge denied to others. Like everything else in this world, education has had its counterfeit. Wisdom has been perverted. Wheat and tares have grown together. There is a genuine education not always obtainable in the great temples of learning. It does not bestow titles and letters. Shrewd observers have noted that expensive schooling does not always produce a scholar. True education is the sound use of knowledge acquired in the hard school of life. 'Experience is the best teacher', knowing how to think and to apply it to the business of living. From childhood Jesus had manifested a lively, intelligent mind, disputing in the temple with the Doctors of the Law, astonishing them by His natural aptitude for their particular sphere of learning. Little is recorded of his early years except that He grew in wisdom and in favour with God and man. These expanded a mind especially open and receptive to the powerful stimulus of the Spirit of God, and was the real education of the Man of Nazareth. By such means He became the teacher who could sit in the temple, stand on the hillside or rock gently in a boat at the water's edge, instructing His listeners as one having authority. All who heard him testified to the profound doctrine clothed in His gracious words. Long used to the vain repetitions and the dried up discourses of a priesthood that had lost all enthusiasm, the oratory of Jesus came like a fresh wind from the hills. Like rain on parched land it fell on the ears of His hearers, stirring to life the long dormant seeds of faith. The tendrils of hope and desire for life reached out towards a new beginning. "No man" they said "ever spoke like this man." He had something to say and He knew how to say it. Naturally His gifts aroused the animosity of those who taught, who had been to the schools and had the diplomas of learning. His teaching exposed their weakness and error. People began to see through the hypocrisy and shallowness of their leaders. His influence diminished theirs and His power undermined their authority. Hence the snobbish questions. "How does this man know anything of books having never been to the schools?" and "Is not this the carpenter's son?" It was clearly then, as it has been since, a case of class distinction, for "the common people heard him gladly". The modern world would measure him by the same attitude. "Who or what does He think he is? He has never been to college. He is not a professor or a doctor. He has no letters after His name. He is a working man, fresh from a country joiner's shop."
Darkness hates the light of the humble people of God's choice, taught in the same school as Christ, by the same energies of the illuminating Spirit from on high. Their wisdom comes from the same source as their Master's. Applied to life it creates peace, justice, mercy and an atmosphere of affectionate goodwill; proof against all crooked dealing. Jesus founded a new order of scholars, men and women, chiefly from the lower walks of life, humble, unlettered, untitled but the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Without them society would be meaner than it is.
"Still to the lowly soul He does His love impart,
And for his dwelling and His Throne, chooses the pure in heart.'"
"Out of him shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7.38). It seems an exaggerated statement that rivers of water could flow from one believing mind. The power of the Spirit of God is an unknown quantity. Men have discovered and harnessed the forces of Nature but the power of the Spirit tends to be overlooked by the pride and assurance of man in his own bright achievements.
Christ not only offered life to "him that believes on me"; He offered the power of life, a force that would flow as a river, dispensing all a river's benefits to those along its banks. Water is a necessity of life. Without it all vegetation withers. The green, smiling landscapes with their great food producing tracts would speedily become deserts without the sparkling liquid flowing through their streams. For this reason water becomes the simple metaphor for life-giving, life-sustaining truth. The thing that men seek afar off disappoints them. They seek for solutions to the problems of man's life on earth but they cannot find them. They believe in the variety of doctrines politic, social and philosophic, put forward by some of its best thinkers only to find their beliefs shattered. Disillusioned, they do not know what to think or where to turn or whom to believe, stubbornly blind to those words of Jesus who held out the solutions but was rejected and is still rejected. Only the odd one here and there throughout the centuries have believed in him with the whole heart and followed him, faithfully to death. The few who have been counted fools for his sake have yet, during their own lifetime, exercised a stimulating influence upon some others by their words of wisdom and their actions of love. They have been like wells of water who have refreshed many other thirsty souls with their knowledge and confidence.
Without knowledge mankind cannot find the way to the peace and happiness which all nations at heart desire. But it must be true knowledge allied to wisdom flowing from God through his appointed channels. Christ, the Apostles and Prophets were the channels of living water flowing through the earth inviting men and women to drink of the waters of salvation and live. Those who had merely existed with the shadow in a thirsty and weary land became alive, full of assurance and a source of help to the needy. This full force and power of life and knowledge has not yet been released into a world too concerned with the forces of its own destruction. The forces of evil cannot exist on the same planet with the glory of God. "As I live, says the Lord, the earth shall be filled with my glory." "I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh." When that time comes the old sources and streams with their muddy waters of ignorance, superstition, fear, guesswork, intolerance and ancient traditions will have been swept out, flushed away on the full tide of new rivers. The old silted up channels will not survive to serve a new society thirsting for God's truth. The lies, the shame, the deceits of false living and reasoning will go down before the force of that clear water of life, which will flow from under the throne of the Universe to revitalize a chastened race.
"Then the streams of living waters, springing from eternal love
Will supply earth's sons and daughters, and all fear of want remove.
Who need faint while such a river ever flows their thirst to assuage.
Grace which like the Lord, the Giver, ever flows from age to age."
(We apologize that the wrong initials were appended to the first two parts of this series)