The Lone Man who Went Before
A Call to Friendship.

One day I watched two young men, a Japanese and an American, pacing the deck of a Japanese liner bound for San Francisco. Their heads were close together and bent down, and they were talking earnestly. The Japanese was saying, "Oh, yes, I believe all that as a theory, but is there power to make a man live it?"

He was an officer of the ship, one of the finest boats on the Pacific. The American was a young fellow who had gone out to Japan as a government teacher, and when his earnest sort of Christianity led to his dismissal he remained, and still remains, as a volunteer missionary. With his rare gift in personal touch he had won the young officer's confidence, and was explaining what Christianity stood for, when the Japanese politely interrupted him with his question about power. The tense eagerness of his manner and voice let one see the hunger of his heart. He had high ideals of life, but confessed that every time he was in port, the shore temptations proved too much, and he always came back on board with a feeling of bitter defeat. He had read about Christianity and believed it good in theory. But he knew nothing of its power.

Through his new American friend he came into personal touch with Christ, then and there. And up to the day we docked he put in his spare time bringing other Japanese to his friend's stateroom, and there more than one of them knelt, and came into warm touch of heart with the Lord Jesus.

Just so our Lord Jesus draws men, Oriental and Occidental alike. Just so He drew men when He was down here. He had great drawing power. Men came eagerly wherever they could find Him.

He drew all sorts of men. He drew the Jews, to whom He belonged racially. He drew the aggressive, domineering Romans, and the gentler cultured Greeks. He drew the half-breed Samaritans, who were despised by both Jew and foreigner, as not being either one thing or the other. The military men and the civilians, the cultured and the unlettered, the official class and those in private life, all alike felt the strong pull upon their hearts of His presence.

The pure of heart, like gentle Mary of Bethany, and the guileless Nathanael, were drawn to Him. And the very opposite, those openly bad in their life, couldn't resist His presence, and the call away from their low, bad level, but eagerly took His hand and came up. Fisherfolk and farmers, dwellers in the city and country, scholars and tradesmen, crude and refined, richly clad and ragged, -- all sorts contentedly rubbed elbows and jostled each other in the crowds that came to listen, and stayed to listen longer, and then went away to come back again for more.

This was why He came -- to draw men to Himself. Our Lord Jesus was the face of God looking longingly into men's faces. And they couldn't withstand the appeal of that gentle strong face. He was the voice of God talking into men's ears; and the music of that low, quiet voice thrilled and thralled their hearts. He was the hand of God, strong and warm, reaching down to take men by the hand and give them a strong lift up and back to the old Eden life. And, in time, as men put their hand in His, they came to feel the little knotted place in the palm of that outstretched hand, and the feel of it went strangely into their inmost being. He was the heart of God, tender and true, beating rhythmically in time and tune with the human heart. And the music had, and has, strange power of appeal to human hearts, and power to sway human lives like a great wind in the trees.

Our Lord Jesus was the person of God in human shape and human garb, come down close, to draw us men back again to the old trysting place under the Tree of Life. And in every generation, and every corner of the earth, then, and ever since then, men of every colour and sort have come back, and found how His presence eases the tug of life on many a steep roadway, and more, much more.[1]

And our Lord Jesus drew men into personal friendship with Himself. He didn't like the long range way of doing things. Keeping men at arm's length never suited Him. He gave the inner heart touch, and He longed for the touch of the innermost heart. He was our friend. He asked that we be His friends, real friends of the rare sort, of which one's life has only a few.

And He asked, too, that all else that we brought to Him should be that which grew out of this personal friendship. He gave and did all that He did and gave, because He was our friend. He asked only for what grew out of a real heart friendship with Himself. He longed to have us give all, yet only what our hearts couldn't hold back. His friendship has one thing peculiar to itself. He has no favourites, in our common thought of that word, among the countless numbers who have come to be included in His inner circle of friends. Yet He gives to each such a distinctive personal touch of His own heart that you feel yourself to be on closest terms. He is nearer and closer than any other, and your longing is to be as near and close to Him in life as He is to you in His heart.[2]

Now, because we are His friends and He is our friend, He calls us to follow Him. It is a privilege of friendship. He would share with you and with me the things of His own heart and life. He wants to have us come close up to Himself, and live close up. And the only way we can do it is by giving a glad "Yes" to His invitation, and following so close that we shall be up to Himself. Nothing less than this contents His longing.

But there is more than friendship here. He has a plan of action in His heart. It is a wide-reaching plan, clear beyond our idea of what wide-reaching means. It is nothing less than a plan for the whole world, the entire race, for winning it up to the old Eden life of purity and of close walking with God. That plan is the passion of His great heart. He has held nothing back -- spared nothing -- that it might be done. He is thinking of that plan as He comes eagerly to you and me, now, all afresh, and with His heart in His voice says "Follow Me." This is a bit of His plan for me and for you -- that we shall be partners with Him in His plan for the world.

And yet -- and yet -- this helping Him, this partnership, this working with Him in His plan, is to be because of our friendship, His and mine, His and yours. It is a more than friendship He is thinking of. But that more is through the friendship. It grows out of the friendship. Only so does it work out His real plan.

Climbing the Hilltops.

Now this "Follow Me" of His, if taken into one's life, and followed up, will come to mean two things. There are two great things that stand sharply out in our Lord Jesus' life down here, His characteristics and His experiences. I mean what He was in Himself; and what He went through, suffered, enjoyed, and accomplished; the Man Himself, and the Man's experiences. These are the two things about which these simple talks will be grouped. Our Lord Jesus wants us to follow that we may climb up the hill as high as He did in these things.

Following means climbing. A friend has told recently of a journey taken to a certain village in New England from which, she had been told, a fine view could be got of the White Mountains. On arrival it seemed that a low hill completely shut out the view, to her intense disappointment. But her companion, by and by, called from the top of the low hill and eagerly beckoned her to come up. A bit of climbing quickly brought her to where the magnificent beauty of the mountains broke upon her delighted eyes.

Our Lord Jesus climbed the hilltops, both in His character and in His experiences. He wants us to share those rare hilltops with Him. He has gone away ahead of any other. He is the Lone Man in both character and experiences. And in some of His experiences He will ever remain the lone occupant of the hilltop. But He is eager for our companionship. He longs for the personal touch. He wants us to have all He has got. He has blazed a way through the thicket where there was no path before. He left the plain marks on the trees as He went through, so we could surely find the way. And now He eagerly beckons us to follow.

But following means climbing. It's a hill road, sometimes down hill, sometimes up hill. Which makes stiffer climbing? Usually the one you are doing seems the harder. Sometimes the road is a dead level between hills. And dead level walking -- the monotonous dead-a-way, with no bracing air, no inspiring outlook -- is often much harder than down hill or up. And so it too is climbing. Following means climbing. He climbed. He made the high climb all alone. No other ever had the courage to climb so high as He. It's easier since He has smoothed down the road with His own feet; yet it isn't easy; still it is easier than not climbing; that is, when you reckon the whole thing up -- with Him in.

Now He asks you and me to climb. He cannot climb for you. That is, I mean He cannot do the climbing you ought to do. He has climbed for us, marked out the hill path, and made it possible for us to climb up too. But the after-climbing He cannot do for us. Each must do his own climbing. So lungs grow deeper, and heart-action stronger, and cheeks clearer, and muscles firmer. Step by step we must pull up, maybe through a fog, with no view of beauty, no bracing air yet, only His strong beckoning hand.

But those who reach up and get hold of hands with Him, and get up even to some of the lower reaches of the climb, stand with full hearts and dumb lips. They can't find words to tell the exhilaration of the climb, the bracing air, the far outlook, and, yet more, the wondrous presence of the Chief Climber, even though there's a bit of smarting of face and hands where the thorny tanglewood tore a bit as you went by.

Just now I want you to come with me for a bit of a look at the Lone Man, who has gone before. I mean at the Man Himself. We want to take a look at the characteristics of His life; what the Man was in His character.

And please understand me here. Following does not mean that we are to try to imitate these characteristics. No, it's something both simpler and easier, and deeper and better than that. It means that, as we companion with Him daily, these same traits will appear in us. It is not to be imitation simply, good as that might seem, yet always bringing a sense of failure, and that sense the thing you remember most. It is to be some One living His life in you, coming in through the open door of your will. Your part is opening up, and keeping open, listening and loving and obeying. The touchstone of the "Follow Me" life is not imitation but following; not copying but obeying; not struggle -- though there will be struggle -- but companionship, a companionship which nothing is allowed to take the fine edge off of.

And please remember, too, the meaning for us sinful men of these characteristics of His. With us character is a result of choice, and then nearly always -- or should I cut out that "nearly"? the earnest man in the thick of the fight finds no "nearlys" -- it's always with him -- character is always the result of a fight to keep to the choice decided upon.

Now with greatest reverence for our Lord Jesus, let me say, it was so with Him. He was as truly God as though not man. Yet He lived His life, -- He insisted on living His life, on the human level.[3] He was as truly human as though not peculiarly divine. He had the enormous advantage of a virgin birth, a divine fatherhood with a human motherhood. And, be it said with utmost reverence, He needed that advantage for the terrific conflict and the tremendous task of His life, such as no other has known. But His character as a man -- the thing we are to look at now -- was a result of choice, and choice insisted upon against terrible odds.

This gives new meaning to His "Follow Me." He went the same sort of road that we must go. He insisted on treading our road. It was not one made easier for His specially prepared feet. It was the common earth road every man must go, who will. And so the way He went we can go if we will, every step of it. By His help working through our wills, we can, and, please God, surely we will.

The Dependent Life.

There were three traits in His character upward, that is in His relation with His Father. First of all He chose to live the dependent life. He recognized that everything He was, and had, and could do, was received from the Father, and could be at its true best only as the Father's direct touch was upon it. This was the atmosphere in which all His human powers would do their best. He had nothing of Himself, and could do nothing of Himself. This is the plan the Father has made for human life and effort.[4] Our Lord Jesus recognized this and lived it. Our common word for this is humility. Humility is a matter of relationship. It means keeping one's relationship with the Father clear and dominant. And this in turn radically affects and controls our relationship with our fellows.

There were three degrees or steps in the dependent life He chose to live. There was the giving up part, then the accepting for Himself the plan of human life, and then accepting it even to the extent of yielding to wrong and shameful treatment, without attempting to assert His rights against such treatment. These were the three steps in His humility. In Paul's striking phrase, He "emptied out" of Himself all He had in glory with the Father before coming to the earth; He decided to come to the human level and live fully the human life of utter dependence; and He carried this to the extent of being wholly dependent on the Father for righting the wrongs done Him.[5]

This is God's plan for the human life. It is to be a dependent life. It actually is a dependent life, utterly dependent upon Him. It is to be lived so. Then only is the fragrance of it gotten. It is part of the dependent life -- the true human life -- that we depend on the Father for vindication when wronged, as for everything else.[6]

Our Lord Jesus chose to live this life. There was an entire absence of the self-spirit, that is the self-assertive, the self-confident spirit. There was a remarkable confidence in action, but it was confidence in His Father's unfailing response to His requests or needs. This sense of utter dependence was natural to Him; as indeed it is natural to man unhurt by sin. And then He carefully cultivated it. As He came in contact with the very opposite all around Him, He set Himself -- indeed He had to set Himself -- to keeping this sense of dependence untainted, unhurt by His surroundings.

Now there were three things which naturally grew out of this dependent life, or which naturally are part of it. One was, the sense of His Father, and of His Father's presence. In a perfectly simple natural way, He was always conscious of His Father's presence. Is this the meaning -- one meaning -- of "blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God"? And then He doubtless set Himself to cultivate this, as an offset to what He found around Him. He would quietly look up and speak to the Father in the midst of a crowd.[7] This was the natural thing to do. He was more conscious of the Father's presence than of the crowd pressing in to get near. When He was speaking to the crowd He knew the Father too was listening. He felt the Father watching as He helped the people. This was the natural thing with Him, the presence of the Father.

With this there went a second thing, the habit of getting alone to talk things over with the Father. The common word for this is prayer. Without doubt His whole outer life grew out of His inner secret talking things out with the Father. Everything was passed in review here, first of all. This naturally grew out of the consciousness of His Father's presence, and this in turn increased that consciousness. So He was in the habit of looking at everything through His Father's eyes.

And with these two, there was plainly a third thing, a settled sense of the power, the authority, of God's written Word. It was not simply that He did not question it, but there was a deep-rooted sense grown down into His very being that God was speaking in the Book, and that this revelation of Himself and His will was the thing to govern absolutely one's life. This points back to a study of the Book. Doubtless that Nazareth shop was a study shop too. He quoted readily and freely from all portions of the Old Testament Bible. He seemed saturated with both its language and its spirit. The basis of such familiarity would be long, painstaking, prayerful study.

These three things naturally grew out of the dependent life He had deliberately chosen to live and were a part of it. They were necessary to it. These are the lungs and the heart of the dependent life.

Now His "Follow Me" does not mean merely that we try to imitate Him in all this. We will naturally long to do so. And He is the example we will ever be eager to follow. But the meaning goes deeper than this. It means that as we really come close up in the road behind Him this will come to be the natural atmosphere of our lives. We let Him in, and His presence within, yielded to and cultivated and obeyed, will work this sort of thing out in our lives. We will come to recognize, and then to feel deep down in our spirit, how dependent we are upon Him in everything. We will gradually come to realize intensely that the dependent life is the true natural life. It is God's plan. It reveals wondrously His love. It draws out wondrously our love, and radically changes the whole spirit of the life.

Poor -- Except in Spirit.

Now of course all this is in sharpest contrast to the common spirit of life as men live, then and now. The spirit that dominates human life everywhere is a spirit of independence. And this seems intensified in our day to a terrific degree. There is, of course, a good independence in our dealings with our fellows. But this is carried to the extreme of independence of every one, even -- say it softly -- of God Himself. Criticising God, ignoring Him, leaving Him severely out so far as we are concerned, -- this has become the commonplace. If for a moment He ignored us, how quickly things would go to pieces! This has come to be the dominant spirit of the whole race to a degree more marked than ever before, if that be possible.

It seems to come into life early. I have seen a little tot, whom I could with no inconvenience have tucked under my arm, walking down the road, head up in the air, breathing out an aggressive self-confidence, and defiance of all around, worthy of one of the old-time kings. And I recognized that he had simply absorbed the atmosphere in which his four brief years had been lived.

This has come to be the inbred spirit of mankind. Everywhere this proud, self-assertive, self-sufficient, self-confident, self-aggressive spirit is found, in varying degree. It is coupled sometimes with laughable ignorance; sometimes with real learning and wisdom and culture. It is emphasized sometimes the more by school training, and other such advantages. But through all these accidental things it remains, -- the dominant human characteristic. The chief letter in man's alphabet is the one next after h, spelled and written with a large capital. The yellow fever -- the fever for gold -- so increasingly epidemic, is at heart a bit of the same thing. The money gives power, and power gives a certain independence of others, and then a certain compelling of others to be dependent on the one who has the money and wields the power. Men everywhere say just exactly what they are specially warned against saying, "my power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth." They forget the words following this in the old Book of God. "But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God, for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth."[8]

This seems to be the picture that underlies that phrase, "poor in spirit," which the Master declared to be so blessed.[9] He is trying to woo men away from the thing that is dominating those all around Him. I have puzzled a good bit over the phrase to find out just what was in the Master's mind. Emphasizing the word "spirit" seems to bring out the meaning. The blessedness is not in being poor, but in a certain spirit that may control a man. We are all poor in everything except spirit.

The last degree of poverty is to be a pauper. Now, the simple truth is that we are all -- every last man of us -- paupers in everything. We haven't a thing we haven't got from some one else. We are beneficiaries to the last degree, dependent on the bounty of Another. We are paupers in life itself. Our life came to us in the first instance from the creative Hand, through the action of others, and it is being sustained every moment by the same Hand. We had nothing to do with its coming, and, while we influence our life by living in accord with certain physical laws, still the life itself is all the time being supplied to us directly by the same unseen Hand.

We are paupers in ability, in virtue, in character, in fact in everything. We own nothing; we only hold it in trust. We have nothing except what some One else is supplying. What we call our ability, our genius, and so on, comes by the creative breath breathing afresh upon and through what the patient creative Hand has supplied and is sustaining. We are paupers, without a rag to our bones, or a copper in the pocket we haven't got, not having a rag to our bones; paupers in everything except -- -- .

There is an exception. It is both pitiable and laughable. We are enormously rich in spirit, in our imagination, in our thought of ourselves. Blessed are they who are as poor in spirit as they actually are in everything else. They recognize that they are wholly dependent on some One else, and so they live the dependent life, with its blessed closeness of touch with the gracious Provider. In certain institutions are placed those who imagine themselves to be in high social and official rank, and in possessions what they are not, who imagine it to such a degree that it is best that they be kept apart from others. It would seem like an extreme thing to say that these people are spirit-mirrors in which we may partly see ourselves. Yet it would be saying the truth. How laughable, if it were not so overwhelmingly pitiful, must men look to God, -- without a stitch to their backs except what He has given, without a copper in their pockets except what has been borrowed from His bank, yet strutting up and down the street of life, heads held high in air, as though they owned the universe, and -- if it did not sound blasphemous I could add the rest of the fact -- and were doing Him a favour by running His world so skilfully! And it grieves one to the heart to note that this seems to be about as true within Church circles as without. The difference between is ever growing smaller to the disappearing point.

It was into such an atmosphere, never intenser than in Palestine and Jerusalem nineteen centuries ago, that the man Christ Jesus came. And He had the moral daring to begin living a dependent life, the true human life, looking up gratefully to the Father's hand for everything. Was it any wonder His presence caused such a disturbance in the moral atmosphere of the world! He insisted, with the strange insistence of gentleness, on living such a life, through all the extremes that the hating world-spirit could contrive against Him. Out of such a life comes His "Follow Me." And in this He is simply calling us back to the original human life as planned by God.

Now, of course, in that first step, that great "emptying out" step, there can be no following. There He is the Lone Man, unapproachable in the moral splendour of His solitude. But from the time when He came in amongst us as Jesus, our Brother, the typical Son of man, He was marking out afresh the original road for our feet. This was the foundation trait in His character. He lived the dependent life.

A Father-pleasing Life.

The second trait in His upward relation was this -- He chose to live a Father-pleasing life. I use those words because He used them.[10] I might say "consecrated" or "dedicated" or "surrendered" or other like words. And these are good words, but in common use we have largely lost their meaning. They are used unthinkingly for something less -- much less -- than they mean. Perhaps if we use the phrase He used we may be able to get back to the thing He meant, and did.

There are three possible lives open to every man's choice: a bad life, in which selfishness or passion or both, either refined or coarse, rule; a good, true, natural life; and a Father-pleasing life. By a good, true, natural life I mean, just now, a really Christian life in all that that means, but lived as if there were no emergency in the world to change one's habit of life.

You know an emergency coming into a man's life makes radical changes. You go to bed tonight and ordinarily will sleep out your eight hours in comfort and quiet. If a fire break out in the house, you are up in the middle of the night, hurrying around, only partly clad, carrying out valuables, or helping turn on water, or something of this sort. Your natural arrangements for the night are all broken up by the fire. An emergency may make radical changes in one's life for a little time, sometimes for the whole life. Financial reverses may change the whole habit of one's life.

Here's a man who has a well-assured, good-sized income from his business, or his inheritance, or both. He lives in a luxuriously appointed home, with many fine pictures and works of art and curios which it is enjoyable to have. He has a choice library including some fine costly old prints and editions, and enjoys adding rare books on subjects in which he is specially interested. He belongs to some literary and social and athletic clubs. He has an interesting family growing up around him whose education is being carefully looked after. He is an earnest Bible-loving Christian, faithful in church attendance and church duties, pure in life, and saintly in character. He gives liberally to church and benevolent objects, including foreign missions, which have become a part of the church system into which he fits. And he goes an even, contented round of life, home, church, club, recreation and so on, year in and out, holding and using the great bulk of his money for himself. I think of that as one illustration of the good, true, natural life.

Now, the Father-pleasing life is radically different in certain things. Ordinarily the two would be identical. The true natural life as originally planned for us would be the life pleasing to the Father. But something, not a part of God's plan, has broken into life, a terrible something, worse than a fire in the night, or a financial panic that sweeps away your all. Sin has wrought fearful havoc; it has made an awful emergency, and this emergency has affected the life and character of all the race, in a bad way, terribly, awfully, beyond words to tell, or imagination to depict. The whole earth is in the grip of a desperate moral emergency.

And naturally enough this emergency affects the life of any one concerned with this earth. It has affected God's life, and God's plans, tremendously. It has broken His heart with grief, and radically changed His plans for His own life. He has made a plan for winning His world away from its rebellion, its sin, back again to purity and close touch with Himself. That plan centred around His Son, and He spared not His own Son, but gave Him up.

And that emergency, and that plan of the Father's because of the emergency, have affected our Lord Jesus' life on the earth. The whole plan of His human life was radically revolutionized by it. The emergency, the Father's plan, gripped Him. He turned away from the true, good, natural life which it would have been proper for Him as a man to have lived, and He lived another sort of life. It was an emergency life, a life fitted to His Father's plan, and so the Father-pleasing life.

He became a homeless man, with all that that means. Would any man have enjoyed home-life with all the rare home-joys, the sweetest of all natural joys, so much as He? And then the larger circle of congenial friends, the enjoyment of music, of exquisite art, the reverent study of the great questions of life, of the wonders of nature whose powers it was given man to study and cultivate and develop,[11] -- it is surely no irreverence to think of Him both enjoying and gracing such a life, for such was the original plan of human life as thought out by a gracious Creator.

Instead, He had not where to lay His head, though so wearied with ceaseless toil. He fairly burned His life out those few years, early and late, ministering to the emergency-stricken crowds, healing their sick, feeding their hunger, raising their dead, comforting broken hearts, winning back sin-stained men and women, teaching the ignorant neglected multitudes, preaching the Father's yearning love, searching out the straying, ceaselessly travelling up and down, without leisure enough to sleep or to eat oftentimes, and all this despite the efforts of His kinsfolk to restrain His burning intensity.

This is what I mean by a Father-pleasing life. It was truly the consecrated life, consecrated to His Father's emergency plan for His world. It was the surrendered life, wholly given up to the one passionate plan of His Father's broken heart for His earth family.

Now, His "Follow Me" does not mean imitation. It does not mean a restless, aggressive hurrying here and there in meetings and Christian service. It means that there will be a getting so close that the sweet fever of His heart shall be caught by ours. The world-vision of His eyes shall flood ours. The passion of the Father's heart shall become the passion of our hearts. And we shall be controlled in all our lives, our holdings, our habits, by what He tells us. It does not mean that we will seek to be homeless as Jesus was, though it may possibly turn out to mean for some of us that we shall be homeless even as He.

But it means that we shall find out the Father's plan for our lives. And when it has become clear, we will set to music pitched in the joyous major our Lord's own words, "I do always the things that are pleasing to Him." And then we will set our lives to that joyous music with its rare undertone of the exquisite minor. It may mean Africa for you, or China for this other one. It may mean a plainer home at home, a simpler wardrobe, a more careful use of money. It may mean a new dominant note in your preaching, and all the personal influence of your life. It may possibly mean what will seem like yet more radical changes. It certainly will mean a deepening peace within, a closer touch of fellowship with the Lord Jesus, a wholly new conception of the meaning of prayer, and a radically new experience of the power of God in our own bodies and lives, and in our touch with others. It will mean that the music of His will and ours swinging rhythmically together in all things shall sweep our lives even as the strong wind the young saplings.

This was the second trait in our Lord Jesus' character upward, He lived the Father-pleasing life. To some it will seem like a further step -- a fourth step -- downward in His humility. And it was. The way up is down. The down slant is the beginning of the hilltop road. Going down is the way up; downward in the crowd's estimation; upward into closer touch of sympathetic life with God, and in reaching the true ideal of life.

The Obedient Life.

The third trait of our Lord Jesus' character upward, in relation with His Father, was that He lived the obedient life. This is really emphasizing what has just been said. But it is putting the emphasis on the daily habit of His life, rather than on the underneath motive. This was the daily spelling out of the first two traits. Obedience became the touchstone by which everything was tested.

The touchstone was not men's needs, deeply as that took hold of His heart, and shaped so much His life. It was not the thought of service, though never was a life so filled with eager glad service. The touchstone was not natural liking or choice, the proper instinctive reach out of His true human nature, though this would be strong in Him, the typical Son of Man. This would not be repressed as an unholy or wrong thing. It would only be given second place, or left out, as it might run across the grain of the great life-passion. With a fresh touch of awe it may truly be said: He did not come down to earth primarily to die, though He knew beforehand that this would stand out as the great one thing. The death was an item in the obedience. He came down to do His Father's will. The path of obedience led straight to the hill of the cross, and He trod that path regardless of where it led. Obedience was the one touchstone of His life.[12] And it will be the one touchstone of His true follower's life. We shall run across this same vein of bright yellow gold, again and again, as we work on through this "Follow Me" mine. These were the three traits of our Lord Jesus' character upward, toward His Father. They were not different because of the emergency of sin He found in the world. They would have marked His life just as fully had there been no sin. But the presence of sin caused them to change radically the whole course of the life He actually lived.

Sinless by Choice.

Then there were two traits of character inward, in Himself. One was His purity. There was the absence of everything that should not be in Him. This is the negative side, though no part of His character called for more intense positiveness. Purity means sinlessness. He was sinless. But we must quickly remember what this means, or else there may seem to be no following for us, only a wistful gazing where we cannot go. It does not mean simply this, that through His peculiar birthright there was freedom from all taint of sin.

It means more than this. Sinlessness was a matter of choice with Him, and of choice insisted upon. And, be it said reverently, no man ever had a stiffer fight to keep true to his purpose than He. He was tempted in all points like as we are. He was tempted more than we. The tempter did his best and worst; he mustered all his cunning and driving power against this Lone Man. And the temptations were real. I am not concerned over the merely academical questions of the schoolmen here. The practical side is the intense side that takes all one's strength and thought. Practically, that our Lord Jesus was really tempted, means that He could have yielded had He so chosen. That He did not meant real struggle on His part. Not, of course, that He ever wanted to yield to what was wrong, but temptation was never so subtle, and doing the right never made so difficult as for Him. He suffered in being tempted.[13] His sinlessness meant a decision, then many a time a moist brow, a clenched hand, and set jaw, a sore stress of spirit, and deep-breathed continual prayer whose intensity down in His heart could never be fully expressed at the lips. The temptation to fail to obey, simply not to obey, when obeying meant going through a sore experience was never brought so deftly, so subtly, so repeatedly and insistently to any as to Him. Resisting not only meant the decision, but the strength of resistance against terrific strength of repeated insistence.

How wondrously human this God-man was in His temptations, in His set refusals, and even more, how human in keeping free from sin. For sin is not human, letting sin in would have been a going down from the human level. This is the practical meaning of His sinlessness -- choice, choice insisted upon, fighting, continual prayer, the Father's help, such as any man may have -- not more.

This helps us to see how intensely practical His "Follow Me" becomes. It is not only that we will want to fight against the incoming of sin because we feel we ought to. But as we get close to Him and breathe in His spirit, there will come an inbred dislike, an intense inner loathing of sin, however refined it may be in its approach. There will be a continual coming for cleansing in the only fluid that can remove sin -- His precious blood, and in the only flame that can burn it out -- the fire of the Holy Spirit.[14] There will be a hardening of the set purpose to be free of sin. We can be sinless in purpose. There can be a growing sinlessness in actual life. And yet all experience goes to show that the nearer we actually walk with God the more we shall be conscious of the need of cleansing, the more we will talk about our Lord Jesus, and the less and still less about our attainments.

The second inward trait in our Lord Jesus was the other side of this -- His positive goodness. I mean the presence in Him of all that should be there. This is the exact reverse or complement of the purity. It is the other half that must go with that to make a perfect character. I like to use the word "holiness" in the sense of whole-ness. He had and developed a whole life. It was fully rounded out. There was nothing lacking that should be there, even as there was nothing present that should not have been there.

There is among us a good bit of negative goodness of character. We point with pride to what we don't do of that which is bad or not good. But this is a very one-sided sort of thing. Purity and goodness together -- purity and holiness, wholeness -- made the perfect, completed character of our Lord. And it was so wholly through His choice, His own action, with His Father's gracious help working through His choice. And the blessed contagion of the Leader's presence will make an intense longing within to follow Him here too.

A Fellow-Feeling.

Then there were two outward traits of character, that is in His relations with His fellow-men, of Nazareth, of Israel, and of all the race. He had sympathy with men; a rare, altogether exceptional sympathy. He felt with men in all their feelings and needs and circumstances. His fine spirit reached into men's inner spirit, and felt their hunger and pain and longings and joys, felt them even as they did, and the arms of His spirit went around them to help. And they felt it. They felt that He really understood and felt with them. And so sincere and brotherly was His fellow-feeling that they gladly welcomed it as from one really of themselves. To men, this Man, so lone in certain traits and experiences, was their brother, not only in His feeling with them, but in their feeling toward Him.

There's something peculiar in that word sympathy. It's a warm word. It has a soft cushion to it. It is a help word. There's something in it that makes you think of a warm strong hand helping, of a soft padding cushioning the sharp edges where they touch your flesh. It makes you think of a tender, fine spirit breathing in and through your own spirit, even as the soft south wind in the spring warms you, and the bracing mountain wind in the summer brings you new life.

Our Lord Jesus had this great trait of sympathy with His fellows. He could have it, for He had been through all their experiences. He knew the commonplace round of daily life so common to all the race. Nazareth taught Him that, through thirty of His thirty-three years, -- ten-elevenths of His life. He knew temptation, cunning, subtle, stormy, persistent. He knew the inner longings of a nature awakening, and yet what it meant to be held down by outer circumstances. He knew the sharp test of waiting, long waiting. He knew hunger and bodily weariness, and the pinch of scanty funds. He was homeless at a time when a home would have been most grateful. He knew what it meant to have the life-plan broken, and something else, a bitter something else thrust in its place.

And he knew, too, the sweets of human life, of human love, of the helpfulness of others' sympathy, of the Father's pleased smile, of the Holy Spirit's indwelling, of the wondrous inner peace that follows obedience in hard places, of the joys of service, of the delight of being able to sympathize. His experience ran through the whole diapason of human feelings, and so He can find a key-note in every one of its tones for the sweet rich symphony of sympathy.

There is again an exception to be noted here. There could be no fellow-feeling in choosing wrong, or in yielding to the low or base or selfish. He is the Lone Man there. Does this make all the stronger His sympathy with us in our upper reach out of such things? Surely it does. The exception makes it stand out more sharply that our Lord Jesus felt our feelings. Wherever you are, however tight the corner, or narrow the road, or lonely the way, or keen the suffering, you can always stop and say: "He was here. He was here first, and most. He understands." As you kneel and look up, you can remember that there's a Man on the throne, a fellow-man, with a human heart like mine, and like yours. He understands. He feels. With utmost reverence let it be said, there's more of God since our Lord Jesus went back. Human experience has been taken up into the person of God.

And let me remind you again, that the "Follow Me" here will mean nothing less than fellowship in the sufferings of our fellows, fellowship to the point of radically affecting our lives. Sympathy will go deeper than a sense of pity for those less fortunate, and a giving to them a warm hand and a good lift up. The poor woman, living in a slum district, being visited by a mission visitor, spoke for the universal human heart when she said earnestly, "We don't want things; we want love." As we get up close to our Lord Jesus there will come the indwelling in us of the spirit that controlled Him. We will see through His eyes, we will feel with His heart, our hands will reach out to grasp other human hands with the impulse of His touch upon them. We shall know the exquisite pain of real sympathy with men in need, and the great joy of sharing and making lighter their load.

When You Don't Have To.

The second outward trait of our Lord Jesus' character was sacrifice. This is not something different from what has been said; it is only going a step further, indeed going the last step that He could go, in both His sympathy with men and His obedience to His Father. It helps to remember what sacrifice means; not suffering merely, though it includes suffering; not privation simply, though it may include this, too. There is much suffering and privation where there is no sacrifice. Sacrifice means doing something to help some one else when it takes some of your life-blood, and when you don't have to, except the have-to of love.

Sacrifice was so woven into the very fabric of Jesus' life that wherever you cut in some of the red threads stick out. It was the never-absent undertone of His life, from earliest years until the tragic close. But the undertone rose higher and grew stronger until at the last it became the dominant, the only tone to be heard. He gave His life out on the cross that so men might be saved from the terrible result of their sin, when He didn't have to, except the have-to of His great heart.

I have spoken of sacrifice as one of the two outward, manward traits of His character. But the truth is His Calvary sacrifice faced three ways: upward, inward and outward. It faced toward the Father, for it was carrying out the Father's plan, and that lets us see not only the Father's love, but His estimate, as the world's administrator of justice, of the horribleness of the sin which He was so freely forgiving.[15] It faced in toward Himself, for it was the purity and perfection of the life poured out that gave the peculiar meaning to His death, and it was His sympathetic love that led Him up that steep hill. It faced outward, for the love of it was meant to break men's hearts and bend their stubborn wills, and so it did and has.

His sympathy -- love suffering -- came to have a new meaning as He went to the last extreme in His suffering. Sympathy is sometimes spoken of as putting yourself in the other's place so as to help him better. Our Lord Jesus did this. He did it as none other did, or could. He actually put Himself in our place on the cross. He experienced what would have come to us had He not taken our place. He suffered the suffering that belongs to us because of our sin. He felt the feelings that came through sin working out to its bitter end. Indeed He went beyond our own feelings here. For because He consented to suffer as a guilty sinner, we, who trust His precious blood, are spared that awful experience.

Calvary was sympathy to the extreme of sacrifice. But both words, "sympathy" and "sacrifice," get new depths of meaning at Calvary. This red shuttle thread of sacrifice will appear again and again in the fabric which His "Follow Me" weaves out for us. What a character He calls us to! What strength of friendship to insist on our coming up close to Himself! Is it possible? Surely not. He is so far beyond us. Yet there is a way, only one, the way of the dependent life, depending on Him to reproduce His own likeness in us. And our giving Him a free hand in doing it.

There is one word that could be used to cover all of this, if we only knew its full, rich, sweet meaning. That is the little understood, the much misunderstood, much belittled-in-use word, "love." All that has been said of the character of our Lord Jesus can be found inside that four-lettered word. Each trait spoken of is but a fresh spelling of love, some one side of it. Love planned the dependent life, and only love can live it truly. Love longs to please love, regardless of any sacrifice involved. Obedience is the active rhythm of love on the street of life. Purity is the inner heart of love; and the fully rounded character is the maturity of love. Sympathy is the heart of love beating in perfect rhythm with your own, and sacrifice is love giving its very life gladly out to save yours. Some day we shall know how much is meant by the sentence, "God is love."

A little child of a Christian home came one day to his mother, asking what it meant to "believe on the Lord Jesus." She thought a moment how to make the answer simple to the child, and then said, "It means thinking about Him, and loving Him." Sometime after, the little fellow was noticed sitting very quietly, apparently much absorbed in thought, and his mother said, "What are you doing, my son?" With child-like simplicity he said in a quiet tone, "I'm believing on the Lord Jesus." And a warm flush of feeling came to the mother's heart as she realized the practical tender meaning to her son, of the word "believing."

May we be great enough to be as little children while I adapt that mother's language here: Following our Lord Jesus is thinking about Him and loving Him. As we come to know the meaning of love we shall find that following is loving. The "Follow Me" life is the love life. But we must learn the meaning of love before that sentence will grip us.

The closer we follow Him the closer we will come to knowing what love is. The nearer we get to Him the nearer we get to its meaning. We will know it as we know Him. When we come into His presence, face to face, its simple full meaning will flash upon us with a great simple surprise.

Let us follow on to know it, that we may know Him. Let us live it and so we shall live Him. And in so living we shall know it and Him; we shall know love, and Jesus, and God.

Top of Page
Top of Page