The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.Seeking Opportunity
Here is a vivid instance of the craft of that old serpent the devil. He did not seek out a stranger, a prominent politician, or statesman, or leader of the general public; he entered into one of the twelve. We should recognise ability wherever we discern it. Here is a lesson for the Church. Only one of the twelve could have done this work. A singular qualification for mischief indeed, a qualification undeniable; that which ought to have been the secret of the best influence was the secret of the worst. It is always one of two things with this Christianity: it is our life, or it is our death; it is a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death, just as we may appropriate and use it. Let us give credit even to evil ingenuity. Satan entered into one of the twelve. He always wants to do that: to get hold of a nominal Christian, that is his supreme intent and desire. Nobody can hurt Christ so much as one who professes to follow him. It does not lie within the scope of so-called infidel power to hurt the Son of man in the sense in which he can be hurt by those who have touched his dear hand, and joined with him at least nominally and apparently in tenderest communion and prayer. What a lesson is this to the Church! How the Church should be continually on its guard! A man who would be of no account were he outside the Church becomes a rather important factor by the very incident of his being within the Church. We get influence from our environment which does not properly belong to our personality. The whole stress of the terms is upon "being of the number of the twelve." Only break up that unit, make it into an odd number, let there be schism at the heart. As for you, quoth the devil, discoursing with one another in marketplaces, speculating, inventing, dreaming, blaspheming, it amounts to nothing; last night I caught a Christian at his prayers, and sowed black seed in his heart, tomorrow there will be a harvest. Think of the doubt of a Christian! From my point of view a Christian should never doubt. Let me tell you why. If Christianity were a matter of intellectual speculation only, doubt would be timely and reasonable and inevitable; but Christianity is not wholly speculative, Christianity is profoundly, essentially, eternally moral. Why do you not hold on there? If you have doubts about the moral content and purpose of Christianity, then you are not of the number of the twelve; but if you are of the number of the twelve whatever speculative difficulties you may have should be lost in your moral enthusiasm, that is to say in your spiritual conviction regarding the righteousness and beneficence of God and Christ.
People will not take hold where they can. Is it an infirmity of the mind or an infirmity of the body that men will allow themselves to be led about in places where there can be no immediate certainty? The infinite never can be expressed in the terms of the finite: it is not the infinite that is to blame. You cannot put the ocean into any vessel that man ever made: it is not the fault of the ocean that it cannot be so included and contained. Why dwell upon these matters that lie away innumerable miles from life's tedious, dreary, suffering road? If any man have pinions strong enough to fly through these infinite firmaments, do not hinder him; the most of us, however, must hold on to commandments, beatitudes, duties, and responsibilities: and of God's goodness I have never had the shadow of a doubt. There I stand. If I had read about it, or listened to some high and eloquent defence of it, I might have forgotten what I had read and what I had heard, but I have seen it, known it, lived it; from the very first God has done all things well for me. When he stripped me naked and lacerated me to the bone, it was well, it was right, it was good; when he took me out into the wilderness, and left me there at midnight, it was for my benefit; I cried against him then, and vehemently complained, and said, The Lord hath forgotten to be gracious: I was wrong, wholly, absolutely wrong. When he dug the first grave under my very hearthstone, I said, Can this be kindness? can this be love? God does not expect you to turn the grave into a garden the very first day; he gives you time and space, and sets life before you in new perspectives and distances and colours, and then you go back and say, Where is that grave? and, lo, you need not make a garden of it, for God has done that already. Why not then cling to this? What can the most of us know about high terms in speculation, so-called philosophy, and the higher thought? There may be men who have rights on these elevations, and we should be foolish to dispute those rights; but no man has a right to take from me my own recollection of God's goodness to me. Every Christian should say that about his own case. Let me repeat, therefore, that if Christianity were purely intellectual, imaginative, ideal, or speculative men might have a thousand doubts, and have them naturally and justifiably; but seeing that it is moral, practical, beneficent, seeing that there is something we can lay hold of and testify about clearly and with a good conscience, we should hold fast there, and the rest shall be revealed and declared as we may be able to bear it.
Why are we of the number of the twelve? The answer ought to be that we may help Christ, co-operate with Christ, make Christ better known, represent Christ, so much so that men coming to us may as it were come to the Lord himself. Be ye imitators of God, be ye imitators of Christ. The word "imitators" we do not like, but it is the right word. If we first of all impoverish terms of their meaning, and then deride them, it is not the terms that are to blame, but our ill-treatment of them. To imitate it now means to affect, to endeavour to produce a kind of similitude; it means also to appear to be what we are not in reality: that is the corrupt meaning of the word imitation; but the Revised Version has restored that word to its right place, and now we read, "Be ye imitators," of God, of Christ, of truth. The question which we shall have to decide is this, whether we shall use our influence for good or for evil. If Christians are doubting God, if Christians are speaking coldly about inspiration and spiritual enthusiasm and duty, the world cannot be expected to take up these great themes and glorify them. Why not stand a little aside for a time? why not cease to be of the number of the twelve until certain doubts be removed, or a new position can be taken up rationally and strongly? There need be no sense of exclusion or excommunication on the part of others. This may be a duty which a man owes to himself. I could conceive it perfectly possible for a minister to say: I want a month or a year alone; I want to be away among the hills or on the sea, far hence, where I know no man's language round about me, that I may think it all out again, and mayhap I shall come back and ask for the old mantle and the old position, that I may declare God with new influence, new emotion, and new energy. That man is not to be banned as an infidel or a traitor; he is rather to be regarded with admiration as one animated by the spirit of stewardship and faithfulness. Every man's life should be his own Bible. Why ask questions about other people's doubts and faith? What of your own soul, your own life? Have you forgotten your own yesterdays? You do not need your faith to be supported by a buttress on the outside, you only need to remember God's goodness to your own life in the past, and you shall have lifting up and strengthening within. That is the abiding and gracious power.
What did Judas do under this bad inspiration? He "sought opportunity." That is a simple expression, but there is a whole tragedy in it. What self-involution, what scheming, what balancing of probabilities, what shading and blending of colours, what weighing with the right hand and weighing with the left hand and deduction of inferences! What a recall of Christ's methods—when he rises, whence he travels, what he does, what he prays; what is his weak point: at what time can I catch him? He "sought opportunity." Whoever does that will find it. Whoever seeks for the door of hell will find it. We read of Herod, "when a convenient day was come." Have you sufficiently lingered upon that word "convenient"? It is a suggestive word—when things come together, from east and west, from north and south; when circumstances are made to focus—"when a convenient day was come." We make our opportunities, we make our conveniences; we write our diary so that it may lead up to the day of red murder. What do you want to make, what do you want to create? You can do it. Happily, this doctrine holds good not in the evil direction alone, but in the beneficent and sacredly happy direction of the soul. We can make opportunities for doing good; we can put ourselves in the way. We understand how certain actions move, and how certain events develop, and we can throw ourselves by skilful accident into the way of doing good without at all appearing to be aggressive or obtrusive. We could create sweet incidents. If we liked we could almost any day meet poverty and help it without poverty ever suspecting that we have been parties to a gracious conspiracy. There may be those who go out hooded and ulstered, saying, Where art thou, poverty? I want thee: stand up, grim spectre, and let me talk to thee! I hope poverty will have more sense than to do so!
There is a way of seeking an opportunity, as who should say, Behold! good day! and good luck to thee! I have had sweet fortune singing to me, and helping me, and it may be that in this happy chance I have an opportunity of sharing something with thee. You can make the opportunity; you can be standing in the road; you can be saying, It was on this path that the awful incident occurred, there may be some repetition of it; I intend to be close at hand, so that if any chance be given me of doing good I may do it with both hands earnestly. And all this you can say to your own soul and to God. It is not to be written large or spoken aloud; it is to be a soliloquy that the soul shall turn into music. Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and gave thee no bread? When saw we thee athirst, and gave thee no drink? When? O lying soul! O dead, dead conscience! The Christ was standing beside you all the time, and you mistook him for a stranger, for the gardener, perhaps for an enemy: why did you not seek opportunity of testing the man's necessity without making him feel it doubly? It might have been worth while to risk something if haply you could have identified the Son of God in a brother man. It is worth while to burn this kind of excuse out of the Church, that if men had only known, they would have done wonders. Why did they not know? Why did they not inquire? "The cause which I knew not I searched out." You might have given that minister something that would have saved him from broken-heartedness. If you had known, you would. No, you would not, thou wicked servant! You might have known. And you, minister, might have helped some poor creature in darkness, and poverty, and misery, if you could have withdrawn yourself from what to you was luxurious enjoyment, it may be of a literary or intellectual kind. Do not say you would have gone if you had known; it might have been worth while for you to have tried to know. So if you want opportunities to do people harm, you can have them. You can find fault with any man. I find now that it is supposed to be as near as possible to having heaven, that "nobody was ever heard to breathe one word against him." That was how it was with the Apostle Paul! Nobody ever spoke a word against the Apostle Paul, either about his bodily presence or his public speech. Paul would not have had a heaven of that kind; he would not have had room in it. No man ever spoke against the apostles, not a breath—O beautiful obscurity, celestial orphanage! Yet this is the highest encomium we can now pass upon men, that we never heard anybody in the world take the slightest notice of them; and there are ministers who say, "We have been forty years together in this town, and never had a cross word." What a miracle! Plow often have you met? "We have not had many opportunities of meeting." Then why did you not make them, create your opportunities, and test one another's trust, and chivalry, and love? If I could address the mischief-maker, I would speak to him words intended to scorch his insignificance. Do not do harm in your churches, do not make yourselves the mediums of harm-doing and mischief in your churches in London, or in the country, or in the mission-field. Have nothing to do with evil-minded men; seek opportunities for helping one another, and blessing life, and when other opportunities occur, avoid them.
Here is, lastly, an instance of what may be termed indirect mischief: he "sought opportunity to betray him unto them." It is in the last words that we find the indirectness of the mischief. There are plenty of people willing to do the sin if they can escape the crime. There is a temptation to do the first, and seeking to avoid the last. We are willing to point Christ out, and then to run away and leave others to do the murder. That is what you did when you told the young man, that was the book that he ought to read. You never saw him again; you knew that if he read that book he was a dead soul. All you did was to say that the book was interesting, fascinating, and very novel and suggestive, and then you ran away. Are you guiltless of that young man's death? Will he have nothing to say to you when you face one another at the bar? You bought the book, named the book, lent the book, watched the effect of the book, and professed to deplore the result. What if I tell a child that the cup is there which contains a very pleasant draught, and if I run away, and hear afterwards that the child drained the cup and fell down dead, which is the criminal? Can I retain my social status and respectability, and allow the blackness of infamy to fall upon the name which I cursed? There is nothing so easy for Judas to do as to point out to others how murder may be done, how vulgarity may be perpetrated, whilst he himself escapes in darkness. He does not escape long; the Lord is against him, and the Lord will bring him to judgment, the Lord will avenge his own cause.
What we have to do is to support Christ, uphold Christ, and to do this by the eloquence of example as well as by the eloquence of speech. Can we all be perfect? Certainly not, but we can want to be perfect, aim to be perfect; we can desire above all other wishes to be imitators of God and of Christ Jesus, and the bent, the trend, of the mind will be accepted as an actual fact. O blessed Saviour, keep us from betraying thee, from pointing out any weakness, even in thy poorest followers, over which the scorner can rejoice and the mocker can be glad with malignant joy. May we be solicitous to find or make opportunities for doing good, speaking good, and being good. May we know that we do not represent ourselves, but that we represent thee. O thou Man, wounded in the right hand, and in the left hand, and in both feet,—thou Son of man, whose temples bled under the piercing thorns, may we know that we represent thee, and may every unkind speech, or word, or thought, or evil deed, be felt by us to be a sharp sword thrust into thine own heart. Thus keep thy Church, thou who didst buy it with thy blood!