Here the road begins to drop down into the valleys. It runs sharply down, and on, through some wild gulches and ravines thick with lurking danger, with the upper-lights almost lost in the deep black darkness. It is darkness that can be felt more than the Egyptian darkness ever was. It proves to be the valley of the shadow of death, then -- of death itself, before the upward turn comes.
The weaver we were speaking of finds some strange shuttle-threads to be woven into the pattern, gray black, ugly black threads, and red threads almost wet and sticky in their blood-like redness.
Yet this is part of the road that was trodden, and that is still waiting to be trodden by feet sturdy and bold enough to go on down into the shadows, before the upward turn is reached again. And these threads will work out a rare beauty in the pattern being woven.
Is there perfect music without the underchording of the minor? Not to human ears. For they are attuned to life as it has really come to be. And the minor chord is in real life, never quite absent; and the minor chord is in the true human heart, never wholly absent. And only the music with the minor blended in is the real music of human life. Only it can play upon the finest strings of the human heart.
But this sort of thing, the getting of beauty out of ugly threads, the getting of music where there is discord, the upward turn again of the valley road, all this is a bit of the touch of God upon life, where the hurt of sin has come in. Only the Lord Jesus can make music where sin had brought in and wrought out such discord. Only He can change the weaving into beauty, where the ugly slimy sin-threads have come in. He can lead up again out of the depths, but only He. His blood, Himself, is the thing added that makes music where no melody had ever been a possible thing; and gives the weaver's threads the transforming touch that works beauty where there was only the ugly; and pulls you up again to the higher levels. The good never comes out of bad. It comes only by something radically different coming in and overcoming the bad.
In Seoul they showed us the great bell hung at the crossing of certain chief streets there. And then they told us the bell's legend. In early twilight times an artisan had made a great bell at the king's command, but the tone of it was not pleasing to the royal ears. So a second one was made, and a third, but neither was satisfactory. Then the king said that if the man did not make a bell with pleasing tones his life should be forfeited for his failure. This was very distressing for the poor unfortunate bell-moulder.
His daughter, a young girl in her teens, either had a vision, or felt within herself that a sacrifice was the thing needful to give the bell its true tone. And so she resolved to give herself to save her father, and with rare fortitude one night she plunged into the great pot of molten metal. And the tone of the bell was so sweet and musical that the king was delighted. And the maker, instead of being killed, was highly honoured. So ran the simple bit of Korean folklore.
We ran across legends quite like it in other parts of the Orient. They all seemed to point, with other similar evidence, to the feeling deep down in human consciousness of the need of sacrifice. Is it a bit of an innate instinct in our common human nature, that only through sacrifice can the hurt of life be healed? However this be, it certainly is true, that the touch of Him who gave His life clear out for men, that touch is the thing, and the only thing, that can make music where there was only discord. It is only His pierced hand upon weaver and web that touches ugly threads into beauty as they are woven into the fabric of life. Only He can lead us up out of the valley of death up to the road of life along the high hilltops.
You remember, there were four experiences of suffering and sacrifice in our Lord Jesus' life. The first of these was the Wilderness Temptation. That rough road He took led straight to and through a wilderness. He was tempted. He was tempted like as we are. He was tempted more cunningly and stormily than we ever have been.
It was a pitched battle, planned for carefully, and fought with all the desperateness of the Evil One at bay against overwhelming forces. It was planned by the Holy Spirit, and fought out by our Lord in the Spirit's strength. For forty full lone days it ran its terrific course. But our Lord's line of defence never flinched. The Wilderness and Waterloo, those two terrific matchings of strength, the one of the spirit, the other of the physical, both were fought out on the same lines. Wellington's only plan for that battle was to stand, to resist every attempt to break his lines all that fateful day. The French did the attacking all day, until Wellington's famous charge came at its close.
Our Lord Jesus' only plan for the Wilderness battle was to stand, having done all to stand, to resist every effort to move Him a hair's breadth from His position. That battle brought Him great suffering; it took, and it tested, all His strength of discernment, and decision, of determined set persistence, and of dependent, deep-breathed praying. And through these the gracious power of the Spirit worked, and so the victory, full joyous victory, came.
Now it comes as a surprise to some of us to find that the "Follow Me" road leads straight to the same Wilderness. No, it is not just the same, none of these experiences mean as much to us as they did to Him. They are always less. But then they mean everything to us! We will be tempted. So surely as one sets himself to follow the blessed Master, there's one thing he can always count upon -- temptation. Sooner or later it will come, usually sooner and later. So the Evil One serves notice to contest our allegiance to the new Master.
The tempter sees to it that you are tempted. That belongs to his side of the conflict. And quickly and skilfully, and with good heart he goes at his task. Through the weak or evil impulses and desires within us, and through every avenue without, those dearest to us, and every other, he will begin and continue his cunning approaches. It is well to understand this clearly, and so be ready. The closer you follow this Man ahead, the more, and the more surely, will you be tempted. It is one of the things you can count on -- temptation.
But, steady there, steady! the tempter can't go a step beyond attacking, without your help. He can't make a single break in your lines from without. The only knob to the door of your life is on the inside. Temptation never gets in without help from within. I have said that the Wilderness spelled two words for our Lord Jesus, temptation and victory. We may use His spelling if we will. A temptation is a chance for a victory. Begin singing when temptation comes; out of it, resisted, comes a new steadiness in step, and a new confidence in the victorious Man of the Wilderness.
But let me tell you how the victory comes. It comes through our Lord Jesus. And it comes by His working through your decision to resist to the last ditch.
"Lead Us Not."
The Lord Jesus gave us two special temptation prayers to make. The one is: "Lead us not into temptation." That petition has been a practical puzzle to many of us, and the explanations not always quite clear. Would God lead us into temptation? we instinctively ask. And the answer seems to be both "yes" and "no."
The "yes" means that character can come only through right choice. We must decide what our attitude toward wrong shall be. It is only temptation resisted that makes the beginnings of strength. Before temptation comes there may be innocence but never virtue. Innocence resisting temptation becomes virtue. The temptation is the intense fire in which the raw iron of innocence changes into the toughened, tempered steel of virtue. It is essential to character that it resist the wrong. It is choice that makes character. The angels in the presence of God are continually choosing to remain loyal to Him. Choice includes choosing not to choose the evil, to refuse it. Adam was tempted; the temptation was bad, only bad; but it could have been made an opportunity to rise up into newness of strength. Job was led into temptation, and he failed when the fires grew in heat, and touched him close enough; and then he learned new dependence on God alone instead of on his own integrity.
That's the "yes" side of the answer. We must decide what we will do with evil. The presence of evil forces choice upon us. The one thing God longs for is our choice, free and full choice. Freedom of choice is the image of God in which every man is made. We are like Him in power, in the right to choose; we become like Him in character when we choose only the right. God would lead us into opportunity for the choice on which everything else hinges. The prayer says: "Lead us not into temptation." The prayer becomes the choice. It reveals the decision of your heart. The man who thoughtfully makes the prayer makes the choice.
And with that goes the "no" side. Certainly God would not lead us into the temptation to do wrong. And so He has made a way -- it's a new way since our Lord Jesus was here -- a way by which we can have the full opportunity for choice, and yet be sure of always choosing the right, and so growing into His image in character. To pray, "Lead us not into temptation," is practically saying, "I will go as Thou leadest. Lead me. I am willing to be led. I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on. I loved to choose and see my path, but now -- but now, lead Thou me on. Here I am, willing to be led. I put out my hands for Thee to grasp and lead where Thou wilt. I'll sing, 'Where He may Lead, I'll Follow." This is the only safe road through the Wilderness. We yield wholly to His control.
May I say reverently, this was the way our Lord entered and passed through the Wilderness, wholly under the control of Another -- the Holy Spirit. He chose to yield to that control. The Spirit acted through His yielding consent, and flooded in the power that brought the victory. Even He in His purity needs so to do. How much more we in our absence of purity, and so absence of strength. "Lead us not" means practically, that we get in behind this victorious Lord Jesus. We refuse to go alone.
The Wilderness spells only defeat for the man who goes alone. We must yield wholly to this great lone Man who went before. We lean upon Him. We trust Him as Saviour from the sin that temptation yielded to has already brought. We will trust His lead wholly now as temptation comes. We will stick close and be wholly pliant in His hands. This is the first temptation prayer our Lord gives us. It means our utter surrender to His leadership.
Then there is a second prayer for temptation use: "Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation." This goes with the other. It is the partner prayer. Be ever on the watch, and pray, that you may not enter into temptation. Guard prayerfully against acting independently of your Leader. Watch against the temptation. Watch yourself lest you be inclined to go off alone, to break away from His lead. For there will be only one result then, defeat. These two prayers together show the way to turn temptation into victory, -- "lead not," "enter not." A temptation is a chance for a victory if you never meet it alone, but always under the lead of the great Victor of the Wilderness.
Then it may help to put the thing in another way. There are two steps in victory over temptation. The first is recognition. To recognize that the thing coming for decision is a temptation to something wrong, -- that's the first step in victory. It pushes the temptation out into the open. You say plainly, "This is something to be resisted." The second step as you set yourself to resist is to plead the blood of the Lord Jesus. That means pleading His victory over the tempter. That's the getting in behind Him and depending wholly upon Him.
"Follow Me" takes us into the Wilderness, and leads us into victory there. There we will learn more about prayer, and music, and the Master, and get new strength and courage on this stretch of the valley road.
At the farther extreme of the service years, there came to the Lord Jesus the other three of these dark experiences, all three close together. On the night of the betrayal came the Gethsemane Agony. That was a very full evening. Around the supper table they had gathered and talked, and the Lord Jesus had made His last, tender but fruitless effort to touch Judas' heart by touching his feet. There was the long quiet heart-talk in the supper room after Judas had gone out, "and it was night" for poor Judas.
Then the talk continued as they walked across the city within view of the great brass vine on Herod's temple, so beautiful in the light of the full moon. And then, as they walk through the narrow, shadowed streets, the shadows come into the Lord Jesus' spirit and words. Now they are outside the wall of the city, out in the open, under the blue, and with upturned face, the great pleading prayer is breathed out. Now they are across the Kidron, and now in among the shadows of the huge olive trees of the garden called Gethsemane.
It's quite dark and late. He leaves the disciples to rest under the trees, and with the inner three He pushes a bit farther on. And now He pushes on quite alone in the farther lone recesses of the woods. And now the intensity of His spirit bends His body as He kneels, then is prostrate. And the agony is upon Him. He is fighting out the battle of the morrow. He is sinless, but on the morrow He is to get under the load of a world's sin; no, it was yet more than that, He was to be Himself reckoned and dealt with as sin itself. All the horror of that broke upon Him under those trees, more intensely than it had yet. The brightness of the full moon made the shadows of the trees very dark and black, but they seemed as nothing to this awful inky black shadow of the sin load that would come, no longer in shadow but actually, on the morrow.
The agony of it is upon Him as He falls prostrate on the ground, under the tense strain of spirit. Out of the struggle a bit of prayer reaches our awed ears, "If it be possible let this cup pass away from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt." And so tense is the strain that an angel comes to strengthen. With what reverent touch must he have given his help. Even after that the great drops of bloody sweat came. But now a calmer mood comes. The look full in the face of what was coming, the realizing more clearly how the Father's plan must work out, these help to steady Him. Again a bit of prayer is heard, "Since this cannot pass away; since only so can Thy plan for the world be accomplished Thy -- will -- be -- done." The load of the world's sin almost broke His heart that dark night under the olives. It actually did break His heart on the morrow. This is the meaning of Gethsemane, intense suffering of spirit because of the sin of others.
And at first thought you say, surely there can be no following for any of us in this sore lonely experience of His. And there cannot. He was alone there as on the morrow. None of us can go through what He went through there. For, it was for us, and for our sin that He went through it. And yet there is a following, if different in degree and in depth of meaning, yet a very real following. While Gethsemane stands a lone experience for Jesus, yet there will be a Gethsemane for him who follows fully where He asks us to go.
There will be a real suffering of spirit because of the sin of others. We will see the world around us through those pure, seeing eyes of His. We will feel the ravages of sin in those we touch, with something of the feeling of His heart. Close walking with Christ brings pain and it will bring it more, and more acutely. We will see sin as He does, in part. We will feel with our fellow-men toiling in its grip and snare as He did, in part. There will be sore suffering of spirit. This is the Gethsemane experience, and it will not grow less but more.
"'O God,' I cried, 'why may I not forget?
And the Thorn-crowned and Patient One
'But, Lord, Thy other children go at will,'
He turned and looked at me:
'But, Lord, this ceaseless travail of my soul!
He looked at them -- the look of One divine;
'O God, I said, 'I understand at last.
He smiled and said,
The word Gethsemane has not been used accurately sometimes. And it is not good that it is so, for it keeps us from appreciating what the real meaning is. In poetry and otherwise it has been used for some great experience of sorrow in which the soul has struggled alone. But there are two things in the Gethsemane experience that give it a meaning quite different from such. The Gethsemane sorrow is on account of the sin of others, and it comes to us through our own consent, of our own action. We need not go through the Gethsemane experience save as we make the choice that comes to include this. It is only as we choose to follow fully, close up to His bleeding side, where the Lord Jesus is leading, that this experience of pain will come.
Moses knew what this meant. As he came from the presence of God in the mount the sin of the people seemed so terrible, that the fear that possibly it could not be forgiven unless he made some sacrifice sweeps over him and came out as a great sob. The sight of their sin brought sorest pain to his spirit. Paul tells us there was a continual cutting of a knife at his heart because of his racial kinsfolk, their sin, their stubbornness in sin, the awful blight upon their lives. There was sore, lone, unspeakable pain of spirit because he felt so keenly the sin of others. This is the Gethsemane experience. Have you felt something like this as you have come in touch with the sin, the blighted lives, the wreckage of lives among both poor and rich, lower class and better? You will if you follow where He leads.
Then came the morrow. The experience of Calvary came hard on the heels of Gethsemane. The pain of spirit became both pain of body and pain of spirit, intensified clear beyond what the night before had anticipated. How shall I trust myself to speak of that morrow, or you to listen? Yet, let us hold still, and, for a great purpose, look at it again, if only for a moment, that the meaning of it, the flame of it may take fresh hold, and consume us anew.
Gethsemane was followed by a sleepless night, while bitter hate brought its utmost iniquity and persistence to hound this Man to death. Nine, of the next morning, found Him hanging, nailed on the cross, crowned with the cruel mocking thorn crown. From nine till three He hung, while the strange darkness came down over all nature from noon till three, the blackness of midnight shutting out the brightness of noon. The Father's presence was withdrawn. This tells the bitterness of the cross for Jesus as does nothing else.
It was out of a breaking heart that the cry was wrung, "My God, My God, why didst Thou forsake Me?" When you can penetrate that darkness you may be able to tell how really Jesus took our place, and suffered as sin for us, -- not before. Then with a great shout of victory He gave up His life. His great heart broke. He died. He died literally of a broken heart. The walls of that muscle were burst asunder by the terrific strain on His spirit.
He died for us. He who so easily held off the murderous mob with their stones, now holds Himself to that cross, -- for us. This is the Calvary experience. It can be felt, but never explained fully; words fail. It can be yielded to until our hearts are melted to sobs, but never fully told in its tenderness and strength to others. It can bring us down on knees and face at His feet as His love-slaves for ever, -- so is its story best told to others. That breaking heart breaks ours. That pierced side pierces through all our stubborn resistance. That face haunts us. Its scars tell of sin, ours. Its patient eyes tell of love, His. Was there ever such sin? Was there ever such love? Was there ever such a meeting of sin and purity, of love and hate, of God's best and Satan's worst?
Surely there can be no following here! And, strange to say, the answer is both a "no," with a double underscoring of emphasis, and a "yes," that will come to have a like emphatic underlining. No, there can be no following. Here, He is the Lone Man who went before. And He remains the Lone Man in what He did, and in the extent of His suffering. There is only one Calvary. There was only the One whose death could settle the sin score for us men. It is only by His death for our sin that there is any way out of our sore plight of sin, and sin's own result. There the Lord Jesus did something that had to be done, for the Father's sake; there He broke the slavery of our sin; there He broke our hearts by His love. There He stands utterly alone in what He did. Calvary has no duplicate, nor ever can have. That is the emphatic "no" side of the answer. There can be no following on that road.
And yet, -- and yet, there can be. There is a "yes" side to the true, full answer. There will be a Calvary experience for every one who really follows. His was the Calvary experience, ours is a Calvary experience. It does not mean what His meant for the world. But it enters into the marrow of our very being, and means everything to us. It means that as I really follow there will come to me experiences of sacrifice that will take the very life of my life -- if I do not pull back, but persist on following the beckoning hand. And it means too, that there will be in a secondary, a minor sense, a redemptive value in my suffering. That suffering will be a real thing in completing the work of some man's redemption.
Listen to Paul. He has been writing to the Corinthian Christians in much detail, of the suffering he has been going through of both body and spirit, and then he adds, "so then death working in me worketh life in you." The same thought underlies that wonderful bit of tender, tactful pleading in the eleventh and twelfth chapters of the same letter. The same thing is put in a rather startling way in the epistle to the Colossians, "I ... fill up on my part, in my flesh, that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ for His body's sake, which is the Church."
This fits in with the thought in that word "began" in the beginning of the book of Acts. In a very real sense our Lord depends upon our faithful following to supplement among men the great thing which only He could do. Paul knew a Calvary experience, and Peter and John, and so has, and will, every one who follows the pierced hand that beckons. Ask Horace Tracey Pitkin at Paotingfu if he understands this. And the China soil wet with his blood gives answer, and so do the lives of those who were won to Christ through such suffering throughout China. Ask David Livingstone away in the inner heart of Africa, and those whom no man can number in every nation, who have known this sort of thing by a bitter, sweet experience, some by violence, some by the yet more difficult daily giving out of the life in hidden away corners.
The Underground Road.
And hard following this came the Burial in Joseph's Tomb. "Christ died for our sins and ... He was buried." "Joseph took the body, ... and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock, and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb." "The chief priests and the Pharisees ... went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, the guard (of Roman soldiers) being with them."
Out of that sealed tomb comes with the emphasis of action, the emphasis of death, this word, "except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth by itself alone." The only pathway of life is the underground road. For our Lord, Joseph's tomb made the death clear beyond doubt. The tomb was the climax of the death. He was dead and buried. For him who follows it means this, a burial clear out of sight in the soil of the need of men's lives. He who simply gets in behind and faithfully follows will find himself actually being buried in the needs of men. And only where there is such a burial can there come resurrection power into the life.
I remember a friend in Philadelphia, a young man who resigned an influential position to go out as a missionary in India. And another friend not at all in sympathy remarked sneeringly in my hearing, "He's gone to bury himself in India." He spoke more aptly than he knew. The years since have told what a blessed burial that was. For scores of lives in Southern India have known the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus through his service.
Do you remember when the Greeks came to Philip with their great plea, "Sir, we would see Jesus"? Whether really from Greece, or Greek-speaking people from elsewhere, or simply non-Jewish people, they represented the outer, non-Jewish world coming to Jesus. The Jew door was slammed violently in His face, but here was the great outer-world door opening. And He had come to a world! But instantly, across the vision so attractive to His eyes, there came another vision, never absent from His spirit those last weeks, the vision black and forbidding, of a cross. And He knew that only through this vision of a cross could the vision of a world coming be realized. And out of the sore stress of spirit, that for a few brief moments shook Him, came the quietly spoken, tense words, "Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone."
The road to Greece is not over the sea here to the west, not the overland caravan route up north through Asia Minor; it is the road down through Joseph's tomb. That was true for Him. It was by that road that He so marvellously reached the Greeks and all the world. And this is true for us. It is only by this road that we can reach out to the crowds with the reach-in that touches heart and life.
These are the four experiences of suffering and sacrifice. This is the dip-down in the "Follow Me" road where it runs through a darkly shadowed valley. These are the dark and red shuttle-threads being woven into the web, by repeated sharp blows of the batten-beam. These are the minor chords that, coming up through the strains of music, give a peculiar sweetness to it.
What Is Sacrifice?
Now you will note that the chief thing in all this is sacrifice. The chief thing in all of our Lord's life, clear from Bethlehem to Calvary and the tomb, was sacrifice. It runs ever throughout; it finds its tremendous climax in the cross. And the word to put in here in quietest tone -- the quietest is tensest, and goes in deepest -- the word is this: Following means sacrifice. It means sacrifice as really for the follower as for the Lone Man ahead.
That word "sacrifice" has practically been dropped out of the dictionary of the Christian Church of the western world. It has not been wholly lost. There is much real sacrifice, no doubt, under the surface. But, in the main, it is one of the lost words in our generation of the Church. We are rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing that we cannot provide by the lavish use of money; so we think. And the loss of that word explains the loss from our working dictionaries of another word, power. For the two words always go together.
But please note what sacrifice means. For we may get confused in the use of words, and like the Hebrews in Isaiah's day call things by the wrong names. Sacrifice does not merely mean suffering, though there may be much suffering included in it. But there may be suffering where there is no sacrifice. It does not mean privation, though there may be real painful privation in it. But again there may be much privation and pain without any element of sacrifice entering in.
The heart of sacrifice is that it is voluntary, and that it really costs you something. It is something that would not come to you unless you decide to let it come. It is wholly within your power to keep it away, and it brings with it real pain or cost of some kind. Sacrifice means doing something, or doing without something, that so help may come to another, even though it costs you some real personal suffering of spirit, or of body, or both, or lack of what you should have and would enjoy.
And please note that sacrifice is not the key-note of the "Follow Me" life. We are not to seek for sacrifice. Perhaps that is quite a needless remark. We are not likely to seek for it. No one loves a cross any more than did Peter, when he had the hardiness to rebuke his Master. And yet we remember those earnest souls in earlier times, who shut themselves up behind monastic walls, and inflicted pain upon themselves by privation and by bodily self-infliction. And we cannot help admiring their earnestness and saintliness, even while we see how morbid was their conception of life, and how completely they got the true order reversed. And there can be found some here and there, among us to-day, with the same idea.
But the key-note of the true life is not sacrifice. It is obedience. Sacrifice is something coming in the pathway of obedience. There come the places and times where you cannot obey without making a sacrifice. Obedience involves sacrifice. And the sacrifice may be of the very real, cutting, hurting sort, personally. The whole instinct of one's being is against it. This seems to be carrying things quite too far, we think. And so the test is on. The sacrifice is not sought. It is shrunk from with all the vigour of one's nature. Obedience means that you go steadily on, no matter how it cuts, or how much it costs.
And the motive under the obedience is usually the decisive thing. If that motive be a personal passion for the Lord Jesus, then you only wait long enough to be quite clear of His leading, of what He would have you do. And then you go on, regardless of the personal loss or pain to yourself. The key-note of the "Follow Me" music is obedience, simple, sane, poised, full obedience.
How Much It Cost God.
One day out in Illinois, while visiting a small church college, I was told this story of one of the students. He had felt very deeply the need of the foreign mission lands, and the plea being made for men to volunteer to go out as missionaries. And after much thought and prayer he had decided to volunteer. But he felt he must first get his mother's consent. So he wrote of his purpose and asked if she were willing that he should go. In due time the reply came back. It was a mother's letter to her son, full of a mother's endearments. But the paper was marked with tear-stains. She gave her consent. She said, "I'm glad my boy wants to go, and I'm glad to have you go, but" -- and here the writing was blurred with the teardrops that had plainly fallen as she wrote -- "I never knew before how much it cost God to give His Son."
There was the whole story of sacrifice as it came to that mother. There was the sore need of the people in foreign lands for the Gospel of Christ. That need had not been met. The need in its sore pressure had become an emergency, largely an unappreciated emergency. The tragedy of an unmet emergency had moved the son's heart to action, under the touch of the Holy Spirit, and then it came to the mother's heart. The decision rested with her. Her inner heart told her the Master's desire. She obeyed, with exquisite pain in her heart over the separation, maybe separation for life, from her son. The key-note is obedience, even though it may mean cutting pain.
The whole test of love and of life is in sacrifice yielded to as the need may come. In God's first plan of life there is no sacrifice. God never chooses sacrifice as His first choice for any one, not even for His Son. But sin is here, an abnormal, foreign thing. Life is shot through and through with its ugly markings. You can't go a foot's length down the pathway of obedience without finding the keen edge of a knife, freshly sharpened, held across the path with its cutting edge toward you, challenging your advance, doing its utmost to hold you back.
And only as the breast is bared to the cutting until a bit of your red life stains the knife, only so can there be any of the power of God in, or through, or out of, your life. But turn that sentence around, and smile in your heart as you remember this, as you do push quietly on past the cutting knife, and say never a word about the knife or the sharp pain -- the best folks never talk about their sacrifices, they are too intent on the Man just ahead, -- as a man so does, there come into his life a fire and a fragrance that burns and breathes out wherever he goes.
It is sin that makes sacrifice. Sin did the carpenter work on the cross, our sin. Sin grew the thorns, and then served as weaver to make the mocking, cutting crown -- our sin, yours and mine. Love yields to the sacrifice, His love for us, His love in us for the others. Sin is everywhere. Its finger-print is in nature, and its scar on human life. And sin's ravages make cruel need, and need intensified makes emergency, and these involve sacrifice as we rise to meet need and emergency.
And love is everywhere. That is, it would be, it will be, if it can find human feet to carry it. It will be if our Lord may have His way. Sacrifice is Love's healing shadow. Sacrifice is love giving the oil and wine of its own life to bind up the wounds that sin has made. The "Follow Me" road is marked red, so you trace His footprints who went ahead, and theirs who follow.
What Obedience Has Meant for Some.
But, no one can decide for another what obedience may mean for him. You may not tell me, nor I you. It is intensely interesting to note what obedience has meant to some. It led Paul to give up inheritance and family prestige, social standing, fellowship in university circles, a home life of scholarly quiet and research, and to be reproached and ostracized, to be homeless having no certain abiding place, dependent on his own hands for daily bread, as he went burning like a flame from end to end of the Roman world. And at the end it meant a prison, and block and axe.
I met a rare Christian nobleman in London, of an old, honoured family, of whom a friend told me this. This nobleman had a large inheritance. Among other things a certain estate. He felt led to place the estate on the market, get the best possible return for it, and then with his shrewd business sense, prayerfully to place the proceeds where he felt they would help best the cause of Christ. And to a friend who expressed appreciation and approval of such unusual action, he quietly said, "I want no praise for this; if the poor Jew had to give one-tenth, surely a rich Christian can do very much more." That was what obedience, at that point, meant to him.
I knew a Canadian woman who had been led to a higher level in her Christian life. A friend put into her hands a bit of manuscript, to which she had access, thinking it would help her in her new life. The manuscript was read, and returned through the friend to its writer. He had intended having it published with some others, if a publisher could be found willing to accept it. Then he had felt that he would do nothing with it until very clear leading came. He did not want to do anything, except as he was led. If the Master wanted to use the writing, it was there if He chose to give the word for its use.
Sometime after as the woman was busy with her nursing work she was on night duty, and had her quiet time in an interval of the night's round. As she was reading her Bible and praying, she said, "A voice said to me very quietly, 'Send Mr. Blank twenty-five dollars to publish -- -- '" [naming the title of the article she had read]. Twenty-five dollars taken out of her frugal savings would leave quite a hole. But the impression that came with the message was unmistakable. And so the money was sent. And it was received by the writer of the manuscript as the Master's answer for which he had been waiting. And that was the beginning of some little books whose messages have been graciously used to bring help to many lives. Her bit of obedience was a link in the chain, and so a bit of her life is in the printed messages the Master has been using. The tracing of red was on the gold, and on the messages sent out. That was what obedience meant that time to her. And obedience usually has its hardest time when its struggle is over a bit of gold.
A friend took us driving one day up in Scotland, and told this story as we passed through a beautiful estate. A few generations back it belonged to one who followed fully. And in response to the clear inner leading the estate was sold, and the proceeds used in sending the message of a crucified, risen Christ, out to the farther ends of the earth.
It was at the same time that a like incident came personally to me of another Scottish friend of our Lord Jesus. The beckoning call was so distinct, and the answering need so clear in its echo, that he planned a moderate annuity for the remainder of his life, and loosed out all the rest of his wealth on the same sort of errand. I do not say you should do something of this sort. And you may not tell me what I shall do. Only the Master has that privilege. But we can urge each other to have trained ears, and soft heart, and obedient will; ears for what the Master is saying, a heart softened by the warmth of His, a will gladly obedient to His slightest wish.
Necessity -- Luxury.
And our Lord Jesus speaks very distinctly, though so quietly. His meaning is unmistakably plain to listening ears. He is quite apt to take you off for a little walk and talk. What kind of a house do you live in? What proportion of your income do you spend on yourself? What is in those safety-deposit boxes? How much would it mean to Him if your signature at the bottom of legal papers put some property at His disposal? Take a look through your wardrobe; who and what controls there? No, I'm not talking about money, nor about missions, only about a personal passion for the Lord Jesus, and about the passion in Him for His world.
"But," you say to yourself, "there's danger of going to extremes here, is there not?" Yes, there is; you are quite right. Extremes are bad, we should be on our guard against them. There is nothing more desirable in these days than sane, poised judgment, a sound mind. And be it keenly marked that the man who is really swayed by the Holy Spirit is peculiarly a sane, well-balanced man. That is one mark of the Spirit's presence.
Yet there's more to be said. Our Lord Jesus went to extremes. He went to a great extreme on the cross, did He not? Is there any extreme like that of Gethsemane? and Calvary? It is because He went to such extremes, and the West knows about it, that the West is so radically different from the East, and that you and I are redeemed from the slavery of sin, with a sweet peace in our hearts, and so much happiness in our lives.
The distressing thing is that there is so much of going to extremes. Go through the Christian homes of the western world to-day, and you find home appointments, wardrobes, safety-deposit boxes, bank books, title deeds, all spelling out one word, spelled in capital letters, EXTREMES. But that key-note, named several times already, gives the only safe way -- obedience. We need to be on our guard, not so much lest we go to extremes at either extreme, but that we obey our Lord Jesus. That, and that only, leads to the wise, well-balanced judgment and action. Obedience to Him means true sanity.
Where do you draw the deciding line between necessity and luxury? How do you define those two words? What is necessity? And what is luxury? Simple definitions help much in getting clear ideas. The dictionary says, a necessity is something you must have. And a luxury, in its root meaning, is an extravagance, something "wandering beyond the proper boundary." The trouble is to know how to draw the line when it comes to one's own affairs. There is such a big difference between what you want and what you need. And often we don't want to go into such distinctions. They might bother our consciences a bit. It seems difficult to keep one's poise in such things. Some godly people go to extremes in not providing sufficiently for real needs. Most of us go to the other extreme. Where does the true dividing line come in?
Well, I think you can say truly that whatever keeps up and adds to your strength can properly be called a necessity. All beyond that line is luxury. It is the part of wisdom to provide carefully and well for necessities. Luxury is bad, for it really saps our strength. It makes a man less vigorous in every way. And yet more can be said. The question of need comes in. Luxury is wrong because of the crying need of men for what the money spent in luxury would bring to them. I think chiefly now of the need of their lives for what can come only through a knowledge of Christ. The bitter cry of the common people against Louis XVI, at the time of the French Revolution, was that the royal family lived on the costliest delicacies while many of the common people were actually starving. They thought that was the chief crime to be expiated at the guillotine.
What is necessary for one's strength moves on a sliding scale. As years come, and the sort of work one does and his strength change, his needs increase. What might at one time have been reckoned luxury is now a real necessity for his best strength and work. Whatever ministers to one's strength is a necessity. All above this becomes luxury, and so is both hurtful to strength, and wrong in itself.
A missionary returning to his home-land, on furlough, noted on his first return home that what had been considered luxuries before he left, were now reckoned necessities; on his second furlough he noted again that what had been reckoned luxury on his first return was now counted necessity. And each return home found this condition repeating itself.
It reminded me of the experience of Sir John Franklin in one of his Arctic explorations. His ship was hemmed in by an ice-field so that progress was impossible. All he could do was to calculate his longitude and latitude, and wait. The next day he was still hemmed in, and so far as he could see, was exactly where he had been on the previous day. But on calculating longitude and latitude again, he was surprised to find that the ship had drifted several miles backward from the position of the previous day.
It would be a sensible thing for us to make frequent calculations, and find out where we are, and prayerfully steer a changed course if we've been drifting. But we can't decide such questions for each other, and they can't be decided by what another does. They can only be decided alone on one's knees with the Master, with the Book, and perhaps a map of the world at hand. We need both the Word of God, and a view of the world of God to shape our judgment. No, it's not a question of money primarily, nor of missions, only of personal loyalty to our Lord Jesus, and to the passion of His heart.
Have you noticed the significance of that word "abide" which our Lord used on the night of His betrayal? "Abide" means a grafting process; we were branches in the vine, but we were broken off by sin. The only way to abide in that vine is by being grafted in. "Abide" means grafted. But the grafting process has two wounds. It means a knife used twice. It means a wound in the vine-stock, and our Master flinched not there. It means likewise a wound in the branch to be grafted in. Just as surely as the knife must make the incision into the stock, it must also cut the end of the branch before it can be grafted in. Our Master flinched not. How about you and me when it comes to the knife, with its sharp cutting edge, and slash and sting?
Perhaps this explains why there's so little life, so little sap-flow, so little fruit. If you follow along the narrow road your progress is sure to be barred by a knife thrust out across the path. And the whole instinct of our nature is to shrink from the knife. The sacrificial knife becomes the pruning, the grafting knife. There can be no life without that knife. Failure to obey cuts off the supply of life.
I became greatly interested in a young man whom I met in Japan. He comes of a noble, wealthy family. He attended a mission school to study English, learned to read the Bible, became intensely interested, and then decided to become a Christian. But his family was violently opposed, and pleaded earnestly with him. He would in time be the head of his family, but if he insisted now on being a Christian he would be disowned. He was to be trained in the Imperial University, and could have chosen a public national career including the probability of membership in the Imperial diet, but he remained true to his decision. And he was disowned in disgrace, cast adrift without a cent. Now he is devoting himself to mission work in the city where I met him, working among the neediest and lowest. I was told that the police gladly say that his mission has greater power than they in preserving order in that worst quarter of the city.
The night I stood by his side, speaking through his interpretation, a Japanese policeman dragged up a couple of youths who had been giving trouble, and pushed them in, saying, "Here's the place for you; now listen to that." And I have never been in a simple service where the quiet intense power of God was more marked. This is what obedience meant to him. And this too is what abiding meant. He yielded to the grafting knife, and the life of the vine-stock came flowing freely through, bearing abundant fruit.
A few years ago I read a simple story in "The Sunday-school Times" that brought a lump in my throat. The writer told of a south-bound train stopping at a station near Washington City. At the last moment, an old with white hair came hurriedly forward and clambered on the last coach as the train pulled out. He was very black, and very dusty, and single occupants of seats looked apprehensive as he shuffled along looking for a seat. But he did not offer to intrude, but stood at the end of the car, looking with big wondering eyes down the car. He was evidently very tired. Then a young man offered him space in his seat, for which he seemed very grateful, and with child-like simplicity began talking.
He was going back home "to Georgy"; had been up in Virginia for years with the rare old slave loyalty serving his old master between times, while earning his own way. Now his master was dead and he was going back down to the old home state, "back to Georgy," and the words came softly, while his hand tenderly patted the seat cushion. Clearly Georgia was the acme of happiness and content for him. As the train boy came through, the young man bought some sandwiches for the old . He was very grateful. Yes, he was hungry, and had walked several miles to get the train. He couldn't spend money for "victuals"; "money's too skase fur buying things on the road," he said, "I was 'lowin' ter fill up arter I done reach Georgy."
Then the conductor came in for tickets. The black man anxiously fumbled through one pocket after another, and finally remembered that his ticket was pinned to the lining of his hat. "Done tuk ebery cent I could scrape up to get dat ticket," he said, "but dat's all right. I kin wuk, an' fo'ks don' need money when dey's home." The conductor had passed on to the next seat behind. There sat a shabbily dressed woman, with anxious, frightened-looking face, the seat full of bundles and a pale-faced baby in arms.
The woman's face flushed red, and then grew white and set, as she said, "I haven't any."
"Have to get off then; save me the trouble of putting you off."
The woman sprang up with terror in her big eyes, "Don't put me off; my husband's dying; the doctor said he must go South; we've sold everything left to send him; now he's dying; I must go to him. But I have no money, don't put me off. My God -- my God -- if you -- " Her plea poured out in excited, jerky sentences. But the conductor could do nothing. He must obey his instructions, or be discharged. The woman sank back sobbing, in the seat. The conductor turned back to get the old 's ticket.
"I'se feared you'll have to put me off, boss," he said humbly, "don't expect a pore ole like me to raise enuf fur a ticket." The conductor harshly ordered him off the train at the next station, saying there was some excuse for the poor woman, but none for him. The train began to slow up for the station. The old quietly dropped his ticket into the lap of the woman, saying, "Here's yo' ticket, missus. I do hopes yo' find dat husban' o' yourn ain' so bad as yo'se afeared." And before her dazed eyes could take in what he was doing, the old man had shuffled out of the car, and as the train pulled on he was seen quietly plodding along, still "bound for Georgy."
And there was no mention of Christ in the story, but one who knows the old typical slave class to which he belongs needs not to be told of the motive down in his heart. That's what obedience, unanalyzed, undeliberated about, meant to him. Have you ever worn the "Georgy" shoes? Have you ever tramped to "Georgy"? If some of us might find out the old man's cobbler and get some "Georgy" tramping shoes! The way of obedience is a way of sacrifice.