The Light of the World
A panorama of the way of Christ
6. - Greater Love than this
Jesus, knowing that he was come from God, and went to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, took a towel and girded himself." (John 13 3‑4)
This act of humble service that Jesus performed for His disciples is part of the general picture of His abnegation, His complete surrender to the service of God and man. We read that "He emptied himself of his glory" ‑ "He made himself of no reputation". He was among men as one who serves. He glorified the life of service, made great the common task, bestowing honour upon givers and making the meek the inheritors of the earth. It was a complete reversal of the system of mankind where the strongest took all and the simple, unassuming poor remained poor. The great were waited on by a retinue of slaves who were looked upon as an inferior breed of the human race. Those who had riches usually gained more. Few would have stooped from their social heights to mingle with the unsuccessful or to serve with their own hands the infirm or the unfortunate. But Jesus, fully aware of His high estate, rose from supper table and girded Himself after the fashion of the lowest slave for the performance of a very humble service. Whatever theologians wring from this incident or read into it of Christian doctrine, to the lay mind it presents the lovely picture of a King meekly laying aside His majesty to wash the dusty feet of twelve very ordinary men. If Judas had not yet gone out Jesus washed the feet that were to carry him on his treacherous errand.
The intolerance of religious leaders thirsting for power has stained the pages of history red with the blood of the martyrs. The great Founder of the Church humbly washed the feet of His chosen few with affectionate care, washing and wiping the feet of His known betrayer, without rancour or reproach. "Did e'er such love and sorrow meet?" asks the great hymn, to which the observer of human nature must reply -- "Never!" The most earnest and sincere of His pilgrims are often seen to fall far short of the magnanimity of the Master. They are, when true to self, conscious that they fail to live up to that sublime selflessness that was the essence of the Lord's life and teaching. He said and He did. His deeds matched His words and they live forever as the supreme example of human conduct the ideal, the standard, the yardstick to which men and women may aspire and by which God measures His saints. There can be no competition about who is greatest or best or cleverest in any circle since the greatest of all stooped to perform the lowliest task. None of those men who knew His worth had thought to do the same thing for Him. Not because they would have thought the task beneath them; they had not yet learned to be considerate and act for others. They did not think of it. It did not occur to them. The lesson was new, to be learned slowly with the passing years and in memory of that upper room. The feet of Jesus had already been anointed with the costly spikenard by the hands of a devoted woman, an office and a gift reserved for kings.
It is the will of God that His chosen children shall be like His Son. Jesus is the elder brother of all His pilgrims who have plodded on to the eternal city. Entry there will not be by any verbal examination of creeds and doctrines. The loving heart is the entrance ticket to eternity. Love is the only passport into the portals of Life. Those who keep that great commandment, "that you love one another as I have loved you." will be those who receive the crown.
A heart in every thought renewed,
And full of love Divine,
Perfect and right, and pure and good
A copy Lord of thine.
"If you know these things, happy are you if you do them" (John 13.17). "If you love me keep my commandments" (John 14.15). Knowledge unapplied, if it is good knowledge, is knowledge wasted. If a man knew the secrets of wealth and remained poor, or of health and remained sick, or of happiness and remained miserable, or of wisdom and remained ignorant, he would rightly be called foolish, a dog-in-a-manger type, neither enjoying the good things himself nor sharing them with others. All the wise and wonderful words of Jesus are just so much useless treasure unless rightly applied to life. One may become a scholar, able to recite the Bible from end to end, quoting chapter and verse with formidable accuracy. Or one may be a student of the Word, dividing, applying, dissecting and extracting from history and incidents an astonishing range of types, codes and forecasts. If however the spirit of God and the love of Christ as contained in the life-giving utterances are not expressed in word and deed, that knowledge is nothing but dead letters.
Many a seeking soul has had its yearnings after God and the love of God quenched by an endless stream of high-sounding rhetoric. Dogmas have wrecked more barques than they have saved and the strait jacket of sect and creed have crippled and disillusioned many a feeble faith fleeing for sanctuary to the great Rock of Ages. Love is the source and secret of all great happiness. "Love that is not narrow, is not small, is not for one or two but for them all."
Hatred drives people mad. Envy, ambition, greed and selfishness fill the world with strife and mad deeds. Love in the best preserver of sanity, health and beauty. The commandments of God and Christ are not beyond the abilities of man. Love of God ensures safety. It keeps the feet from the pitfalls of idolatry. Whatever the object of worship, its feet are clay, sooner or later cracking to reveal the temporary nature of its satisfaction. The unchanging One requires of man, mercy, justice and humility. The presumptuous are never happy. Those who accept the blessings of life as God's gifts, being thankful, are joyously happy, with the carefree happiness of good children in a world of wonders. To love your neighbour as yourself is not a harsh command. A friendly soul is a happy soul. If neighbours remain aloof the loss is theirs. The fountain of love can shed its perpetual dews without loss to itself. To love as Christ loved, to serve as He served, to give as He gave, to empty out self as He emptied himself of His glory, is to know peace, riches and contentment of a quality unknown to the pursuers of worldly success and prosperity. It is possible to be poor and blessed, to be rich and wretched. Poverty and superb happiness do not always go hand in hand. Christ never laid it down that to be a pilgrim we must be poor. To be poor in spirit is different from being poor in pence. Poverty and pride may hang together, where the better endowed, linked to Christian gentleness and generosity, will be led to give again all that he has as a faithful steward of God's goods.
The happiness of life does not depend on what people have or who they are, but on what they are, on how their whole nature responds to the commandments of God and to the world around them. Most especially does Christian happiness depend on carrying out the commands of Christ, not through fear or self interest but from the earnest desire to please Him who set so glorious an example before the minds of men, and from a glorious conviction that these commandments are the finest laws ever issued to any world. In them is the very breath of life, and in the doing of them is great joy.
"But what to those who find? Ah this, nor tongue nor pen can show,
The love of Jesus, what it is, none but his loved ones know.
Jesus our only joy be thou, as thou our prize wilt be,
In thee be all our glory now, and through eternity."
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you." (John 14.27) Jesus owned nothing except the clothes He wore. These, the Roman soldiers who crucified Him took as their lawful gratuity for the awful service they had rendered to the priests who had thrust Him into the hands of Roman power for such an end. He had therefore nothing to give to those who had left all to follow Him. There are the legends of the Holy Grail and the seamless Robe but they are only legends. The peace of Christ was no legend. It was a legacy, which like the anointing oil on the head of the High Priest has run down to the hem of His garment, touching and blessing all members of the Church till now. The calm serenity, the tranquility of that peace is a state of heart and mind that cannot be described by a dictionary. It is "not as the world gives", therefore the world can neither know it nor define it. Peace as the world desires it is freedom from war, from hostility, tumults and quarrels. Freedom from social, political and national disturbance is something governments of men are forever seeking and forever losing. When the cry goes up of 'Peace!' tumult breaks out in some other quarter of the globe. Humanity sits on the side of a volcano, never knowing from day to day when the rumbling monster will blow up, involving them all in its ruin. Peace of any kind is hard to obtain and keep. Domestic peace is a brittle thing. Whenever two or three are gathered together a division of opinion, a tug of wills, a clash of personalities creates the inevitable disturbance. The earth resounds to the crash and roar of the machine, to the noisy tumult of the streets, to the shouts and yells of the discontented, rolling and swaying like the waves of the restless ocean.
Truly, the world cannot give peace, it cannot get peace. It has never known peace, nor will it know peace until the Prince of Peace commands silence and the angry billows of the nations fall before His omnipotent will. A tiny bird is known to build a swinging nest over a roaring cataract and to flit in and out with the most cheerful alacrity. This jewel of Nature is a fit picture of the Christian pilgrim who lives above the roar and turbulence of the world with a cheerful composure of mind, an undisturbed freedom from agitation, because both are in complete harmony with the laws of their Maker. There is no questioning of how, why or whither; no revolt against the law written within. Only a joyous living, a complete trust, an assured confidence, a calm repose, an unsurpassed tranquility, a serenity of heart and mind which cannot be shaken. Though the earth be removed, these remain unmoved, confident in the power controlling the stormy elements of earth, knowing that in His own way and time He will bring peace and order from the moral chaos of mankind.
Peace! Great Peace! The Peace of God! The Peace of Christ! The great gift has been to the few who have treasured it, lived with it and died with its sunset glow upon their calm faces. The world loses its peace; the ambassadors of peace weep over their failure to create peace between divided nations. But for this peace, 'My Peace', the Christian counts the world well lost.
Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging found?
On Jesus bosom nought but calm is found.
Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.
"I am the true vine, my Father is the husbandman," (John 15.1). When Jesus wished to give an illustration of the harmony and cooperation between God and Himself and His chosen, he turned readily to Nature. In the parable of the vine He taught a living truth which cannot be misunderstood. A branch draws its sap and sustenance from the tree of which it is an essential part. Cut off from the tree a branch soon withers and dies, its use and beauty gone. A tree shorn of branches is a maimed and pathetic sight. Both trunk and branches combine a symmetrical beauty of shape and colour. When laden with fruit the vine with its luxurious clusters and handsome leaves is an arresting and desirable plant. No fruit-bearing tree is so severely pruned. When trimmed by expert hands its growth and produce are phenomenal. So Jesus described himself as the main stem, rooted in time and eternity, out of whose life should grow branches, climbing and spreading throughout the world for twenty centuries, under the personal supervision of God the great Husbandman. Nourishment, care and pruning were to be the Divine work of the Father, seeking fruit from the branches and waiting patiently for it.
"I am the true vine, my Father is the Husbandman". As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, neither can the vine prune itself. Without expert training it runs wild. Any fruit it produces is scarcely worth gathering. The Christian in Christ has the very life of Christ running through his being as the sap of the tree supplies the branches with life and the power to produce fruit. Under the watchful eye of Divine providence the branches are shaped, trimmed and trained, all excess growth is cut away, so that they appear as so many strands of one harmonious whole. When fruit appears the rich pendant clusters complete the picture in the natural tree. In the true vine Christian lives are trimmed and trained by the varied experiences of life. The pliable, talented mind capable of producing good results may be more hardly dealt with than the lesser branches, too frail to support the weight of heavier clusters. Talents, temperament, ability to imbibe knowledge to survive circumstances, amid the rough assaults of doubt and discouragement, are all indications of a good fruit bearing branch that will produce those rich fruits of character which will be found to the glory of God. The ignorant jeer at character but it is by character that God transforms and reforms the world. If a good branch is pruned and a barren branch is cut off for destruction, the purpose and decision is that of the chief Gardener. The fruit God desires of His creatures is love. Christ-like love, selfless, disinterested love. If by means of the True Vine He produces the characteristic rich, fruitful clusters, it is by this means He intends to restore mankind to that ideal state of harmony with Himself and among themselves.
In God's kingdom on the earth he intends to make for all nations "a feast of fat things, of wines on the lees well refined". Wine is the juice of the grape and this wine is without sediment or impurity, a choice vintage, a life-giving liquid. "He will have all men to be saved and brought to a knowledge of the truth." Truth is Christ, love, life, God's way of bringing mankind to a knowledge of Himself, away from sin, violence, fear, superstition, sickness and death, into a new, clean, healthy atmosphere of knowing the living God as He truly is and rejoicing in Him. The true Church, saints of God, the branches, the True Vine, are the first-fruits, developed to pour their sparkling blessings on a weary world. To be such a branch is a rare honour of the ages, given to few. Fruit is the slow produce of a lifetime. It is neither works nor scholarship, though these may go into its making. It is the richness of God-like love. Its source is neither in sect nor system but in Christ. "Abide in me and I in you. Without me you can do nothing."
I am Thine O Lord, I have heard thy voice,
And it told thy love to me;
But I long to rise in the arms of faith
And be closer drawn to thee.
"Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15.13). The heroic self-sacrifice of one man to save the life of another is regarded as the highest form of valour. Life is the most valuable possession of every human being. When this is freely risked and given that others may live it constitutes the finest and most fearless of actions. It demonstrates a concern for others, greater than any concern for self. It is the principle of altruism pursued to its utmost end. Many noble ones have perished that others may live and their memory is preserved in history. Their fame is remembered in sculpture, in tablet and medal, in the halls of fame and in the hearts of those who loved them. These are not the sum total of those who have laid down their lives that others might live. There is a less spectacular giving of life that wins little of the world's applause. It lacks the one splendid deed, the one generous throwing away of self and passes unnoticed in the general throng of living. Yet how many men and women could testify to their own daily laying down of life, to an endless chain of common tasks, to a constant shouldering work, burdens and responsibilities, each demanding their daily mead of courage and patience, that other lives may run in a smoother channel. Whether life be given in one magnificent act or in years of daily offering, it is life given, life poured out that other lives may live, and live more abundantly. The prime theme of the teaching of Jesus was service and salvation. He came to minister, to serve others, to salvage human life from the wreckage of sin and death to seek and to save the lost life and inheritance of man. He was a doer of His own word for He poured out His soul unto death, completing the last giving away of Himself by going voluntarily to the Cross, enduring the agony and despising its shame.
It was an act of heroism which won the applause of the crowd. The priests jeered, the Roman soldiers gambled indifferently beneath the cross, the ignorant despised and reviled Him, women wept, His friends stood afar off, and the average citizens were dumb with sorrow and foreboding. The man who had healed their sick, blessed their children, raised their dead, spoken kind words to weary hearts, suffered death as a criminal, yet no greater hero ever died for man than He who paid the penalty for sin, between two thieves. It was love's last action. Clearly setting the final end of His course, the alienation, the slander, the jeers, the ignominy, the torture of slow death. He yet continued unwavering on His way, willing to suffer wrong, refusing to seek deliverance or to assert His just claims. After nearly two thousand years His example has inspired many but His giving still remains without parallel in human experience.
Greater love than this no man has ever shown. He laid down His life for His friends, His chosen, His believers. Even His enemies will yet see Him with clear eyes, as before the King of Love they taste the over-spill of His generosity.
When I survey the wondrous cross
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.