It wasn't always a rough road, of course. But as you look at it from end to end, the roughness of it is what takes your eye most, and takes great hold of your heart. The smooth places here and there make you feel that it was a rough road. And yet, rough though it really was, the roughness was eased by the love in the heart of the Man that trod it; though not eased for the soles of His feet, nor for hands and face. For there was thorny roughness at the sides as He pushed through, as well as steep roughness under foot.
And it may not seem so long at first. But the longer you look, the sharper your eyes get to see how great was the distance He had to come, from where He was, down to where we were.
Let me take a little sea room, and go back a bit so we can see the full length, and the real roughness, of the road He came. And lest some of you may think that the telling of the first part of it has the sound of a fairy tale, let me tell you that it is simply the story of what actually took place, as told in the pages of this old Book of God. It will be a help if you will keep your copy of the Bible at hand, and turn thoughtfully to its pages now and then as we talk.
There is a rare simplicity in the way in which the story of the Bible is told. And it helps to remember that the Bible is never concerned with chronology, nor with scientific process but only with giving pictures of moral or spiritual conditions among men as seen from above. And chiefly it is concerned with giving a picture of God, in His power and patience and gentleness, and in His great justice and right in dealing with everybody. Yet the picture and the language never clash with the facts of nature and of life as dug out by student or scientist.
It is a great help in talking about these things of God, and of human life, not to have any theories to fit and press things into, but simply to take the Book's story, and to tell it over again in the language of our generation. It simplifies things quite a bit not to try to fit God into your philosophy, but to accept His own story of life. It not only greatly simplifies one's outlook, it gives you such sure footing, such steadiness. Any other footing may go out from under your feet any time. But the old Book of God "standeth sure," never more sure than to-day when it was never more riddled at, and mined under. But neither bullets nor mining have affected the Book itself. The only harm has been in the kick-back of the firing, upon those standing close by.
I am frank to confess my own ignorance of the great truths we are talking over here, save for the Bible itself, and the response to it within my own spirit, and the further response to it in human life all over the earth to-day West and East. Human life is a faithful mirror, accurately reflecting to-day just the conditions found in this old Book. No book so faithfully and accurately describes the workings and feelings of the human mind and heart of to-day in our western world, and in all the world, as this Book, written so long ago in the language of the East. Its finger still gives accurately the pulse beat of the race. And it helps, too, to tell the story in the simple way in which this Book itself does, as a story.
God on a Wooing Errand.
God and man used to live together in a garden. It was a most wonderful garden, full of trees and flowers and fruit, of singing birds with rare feathers and songs, of beasts that had never yet learned fear, nor to make others feel it, and a beautiful river of living water. The name given it indicates that it was a most delightful spot. God and man used to live together in this garden. They talked and walked and worked together. Man helped God in putting the finishing touches on His work of creation. It was the first school, with God Himself as teacher. God and man used to have a trysting time under the trees in the twilight. But one evening when God came for the usual bit of fellowship the man was not there. God was there. He had not gone away, and He has never gone away. Man had gone away, and God was left lonely standing under the tree of life.
A friend, in whose home we were, told of her little daughter's remark one day. The mother had been teaching her that there is only one God. The child seemed surprised and on being told again, said in her childlike simplicity, "I think He must be very lonesome." Well, the child was right in the word used. God is lonesome, though for an utterly different reason than was in the child's mind. God was lonesome that day, left standing alone under the trees of the garden. He is lonesome for fellowship with every one who stays away from Himself. That homely human word may well express to us the longing of His heart.
Man went away from God that day, then he wandered farther away, then he lost his way back, then he didn't want to come back. And away from God his ideas about God got badly confused. His eyes grew blind to God's pleading face, his ears dull and then deaf to God's voice. His will got badly warped and bent out of shape morally, and his life sadly hurt by the sin he had let in.
And all this was very hard on God. It grieved Him at His heart. He sent many messengers, one after another, through long years, but they were treated as badly as they could be. And at last God said to Himself, "What more can I do? This is what I will do. I'll go down Myself and live among them, and woo them back Myself." And so it was done. One day He wrapped about Himself the garb of our humanity, and came in amongst us as one of ourselves. And He became known amongst us as Jesus. He had spoken the world into being; now, in John's simple homely language, He pitched His tent amongst our tents as our near neighbour and kinsman. Our Lord Jesus was the face of God looking into ours, the voice of God speaking into the ears of our hearts, the hand of God reached down to make a way back and then lead us along the way back again, the heart of God coming in touch to warm ours and make us willing to go back.
It was a long road He came, as long as the distance we had gone away from Him. And no measuring stick has yet been whittled out that can tell that distance. We want to look a bit at the last lap of the road, the earth-lap. It runs from the Bethlehem plain where He came in, to the Olivet hilltop where He slipped away again up and back, for a time, until things are ready for the next step in His plan.
The Rough Places.
The bit of earth-road began to get pretty rough before He had quite gotten here. The pure gentle virgin-mother was under cruelly hurting suspicion on the point about which a woman is properly most sensitive, and that too by the one who was nearest to her. I've wondered why Joseph, too, was not told of the plan of God when Mary was, and so she be spared this sore suspicion. I think it was because he simply could not have taken it in beforehand, though he rose so nobly when he was told. Her experience was unavoidable, humanly speaking.
That hastily improvised cradle was in rather a rough spot for both mother and babe. The hasty fleeing for several days and nights to Egypt, with those heart-rending cries of the grief-stricken mothers of Bethlehem haunting their ears, the cautious return, and then apparently the change of plans from a home in historic Bethlehem to the much less favoured village of Nazareth, -- it was all a pretty rough beginning on a very rough road. It was a sort of prophetic beginning. There proved to be blood-shedding at both ends, and each time innocent blood, too.
The word Nazareth has become a high fence hiding from view thirty of the thirty-three years. Was this the dead-level, monotonous stretch of the road, from the time of the early teens on to the full maturity of thirty? Yet it proved later to have a dangerously rough place on the precipice side of the town. It seems rather clear that Joseph and Mary would have much preferred some other place, their own family town, cultured Bethlehem, for rearing this child committed to their care. But the serious danger involved decided the choice of the less desirable town for their home.
But the roughest part began when our Lord Jesus turned His feet from the shaded seclusion of Nazareth, and turned into the open road. At once came the Wilderness, the place of terrific temptation, and of intense spirit conflict. The fact of temptation was intensified by the length of it. Forty long days the lone struggle lasted. The time test is the hardest test. The greatest strength is the strength that wears, doesn't wear out. That Wilderness had stood for sin's worst scar on the earth's surface. Since then it has stood for the most terrific and lengthened-out siege-attack by the Evil One upon a human being. Satan himself came and rallied all the power of cunning and persistence at his command. He did his damnable worst and best.
In an art gallery at Moscow is a painting by a Russian artist of "Christ in the Wilderness," which reverently and with simple dramatic power brings to you the intense humanity of our Lord, and how tremendously real to Him the temptation was. This helps to intensify to us the meaning of the Wilderness. It stands for victory, by a man, in the power of the Spirit, over the worst temptation that can come.
Then follows a long stretch of rough road with certain places sharply marked out to our eyes. The rejection by the Jewish leaders began at once. It ran through three stages, the silent contemptuous rejection, the active aggressive rejection, then the hardened, murderous rejection running up to the terrible climax of the cross.
The contemptuous rejection of the Baptist's claim for his Master, by the official commission sent down to inquire, was followed by the more aggressive, as they began to realize the power of this man they had to deal with. John's imprisonment revealed an intensifying danger, and the need of withdrawing to some less dangerous place.
Our Lord's change to Galilee, and to preaching and working among the masses, was followed by a persistent campaign on the part of the Southerners of nagging, harrying warfare against Him throughout Galilee. It grew in bitterness and intensity, with John's death as a further turning point to yet intenser bitterness. The visits to Jerusalem were accompanied by fiercer attacks, venomous discussions, and frenzied attempts at personal violence. This grew into the third stage of rejection, the cool, hardened plotting of His death. The last weeks things head up at a tremendous rate; our Lord appears to be the one calm, steady man, even in His terrific denunciation of them, held even and steady in the grip of a clear, strong purpose, as He pushed His way unwaveringly onward. Then came the terrible climax, -- the cross. The worst venomous spittle of the serpent's poison sac spat out there. It was the climax of hate, and the climax of His unspeakable love.
When Your Heart's Tuned to the Music.
Surely it was a long, rough road. Its length was not measured by miles, nor years, but by the experiences of this Lone Man. So measured it becomes the longest road ever trod, from purity's heights to sin's depths; from love's mountain top to hate's deepest gulf. It makes a new record for roughness. For no one has ever suffered what our Lord Jesus did; and no one's suffering ever had the value and meaning for another that His had and has for all men and for us. Not one of us to-day realizes how He suffered, nor the intensity of meaning that suffering actually has for all the race, and for those of us who accept it for ourselves.
It was a rough, long road, and He knew ahead that it would be. He saw dimly ahead, then more sharply outlined as He drew on, those crossed logs in the road, growing bigger and darker and more forbidding as He pushed on. But He could not be stopped by that, for He was thinking about us, and about His Father. He pushed steadily on, past crossed logs all overgrown and tangled with thorn bushes and poison ivy vines, bearing the marks of logs and thorns and poison ivy, but He went through to the end of the road, He reached His world; He reached our hearts. And now He is longing to reach through our hearts to the hearts of the others.
"But none of the ransomed ever knew
'Lord, whence are those blood-drops all the way
But all through the mountains, thunder-riven,
But there was something more on that road. Do you know how the wind blows through the trees on the steep mountain side, and will make music in your heart, if your heart is tuned to its music, even while you are pushing your way through thorny tanglewood and undergrowth? Do you know how, as you go down the deep mountain ravines, with the wild rushing torrent far below, where a single misstep would mean so much, how the breeze playing through the leaves makes sweetest melody, if your heart's tuned to it?
Well, this great Lone Man had a heart tuned for the music of this road. The strong wind of His Father's love blew down through the wild mountains into His face, and made sweetest music, and His ear was in tune and heard it. He had a tuning-fork that gave Him the true pitch for the rarest music, while His feet travelled cautiously the deep wilderness ravines, and boldly climbed through the thorny undergrowth of that steep hill just outside the city wall. Obedience is the rhythm of two wills, that blends their action into rarest harmony. Some of us need to use His tuning-fork, so as to enjoy the music of the road.
The Pleading Call To Follow
Hungry for the Human Touch.
God hungers for the human touch. There's an inner hesitancy in saying this, and in hearing it. We feel it can hardly be so, even though our inner hearts would wish it were so.
We know that we men hunger for the human touch, the strongest of us. And in our hour of sore need we know that our inner hearts look up, and wish we could have a really close touch with God. Well, this is a bit of the image of God in us. We were made so, like Himself. In seeing ourselves here, we are getting a closer look at the heart of God. He longs for the human touch. When He made us He breathed into our nostrils the breath of His own life. And this is not simply a bit of the first Genesis chapter. It is a bit of every human life. There's the breath of God in every new life born into the world. He gives a bit of Himself. We are not complete creatively until part of Himself has come to be part of us.
And Jesus' coming was but the same thing put in yet more intense, close, appealing shape to us. He came to get us in touch again after the break of sin. He gave His blood that we might have life again after the sin-break had broken off our life, and commenced to dry it up. This was an even closer touch. The breath of God came in Eden to breathe in our lungs. The blood of His Son came on Calvary to give life-action to our hearts. Could there be anything to make clearer His hunger for the human touch?
The Holy Spirit's presence spells out the same thing once more. There has been every sort of thing to induce Him to go away. He has been ignored, left out of all reckoning, and talked against. Yet with a patience beyond what that word means to us, He has remained creatively in every man as the very breath of his life. And He comes and remains the very breath of the spirit life in those who yield to His pleading call.
Jesus was God coming after us. We had gone away. He came to woo us back into close touch again. He came to the nation of Israel, that through it He might reach out to all men. When He comes again it will be again to use Israel as His messenger, while He Himself will be present on the earth in a new way to woo men to Himself. When that nation's leaders rejected John's announcement, and so rejected our Lord Jesus, He began to appeal to individual men, while waiting for the nation. And the work with individuals was also His call to the nation.
So the chief thing He did was to call men. His presence was a call, and the crowds flocked to Him wherever He went. His life of purity and sympathy was felt as an earnest call and responded to eagerly. His doings were a very intense call. Every healed man and woman, every one set free of demon influence, every one of the fed multitudes, felt called to this man who had helped him so. His teaching was a continual call, and His preaching. But above all else stood out the personal call He gave men. For our Lord Jesus was not content to deal with the crowds simply; He dealt with men one by one in intimate heart touch.
Called to Go.
There are a number of invitations He used in calling men. It was as though in His eagerness He used every sort that might go home. And yet there was more than this; these invitations are like successive steps up into the life He wanted them to have. He said, "Come unto Me." This was always the first, and still remains first. It led, and it leads, into rest of heart and life, peace with God. He quickly followed it with "Come ye after Me." They must come to Him before they could come after Him. This was found to mean discipleship, learning the road. He would "make" them like Himself in going after others. He said, "take My yoke upon you."This meant a bending down to get into the yoke, a surrender of will and heart to Himself, and then partnership, fellowship side-by-side with Himself.
Then He spoke another word to the innermost circle, on the night in which He was betrayed. He had a long talk that evening with the eleven around the supper table, and walking down to the grove of olives at the Brook of the Cedars. Several times that evening He used this new word, "abide," "abide in Me." That means staying with Him, not leaving, living continuously with Him. It means a continued separation from anything that would separate from Him. And then it means a fulness of life coming from Himself into us as we draw all our life from Himself, a rich ripeness, a rounded maturity, a depth of life, and these always becoming more, -- richer, rounder, deeper.
Then after the awful days of the cross were past, on the evening of the resurrection day, in the upper room with ten of the inner disciples, He practically said, "You be Myself"; "as the Father sent Me, even so send I you"; "You be I." I wonder if any one of us has ever been taken or mistaken for the Lord Jesus. We would never know it, of course. But He meant it to be so.
A Scottish lady missionary in India tells of a Bible class of girls which she had. She was teaching them about the life and character of the Lord Jesus. One day a new girl came in, fresh from the heathenism in which she grew up, knowing nothing of the Gospel. She listened, and then became quite intense and excited in her childish way, as she heard them talking about some One, how good He was, how gentle, how He was always teaching and helping the people around Him. At last she could restrain her eagerness no longer, but blurted out, "I know that man; he lives near us." It was found that she did not know about Christ, but supposed they were speaking of a very earnest native Christian man living in her neighbourhood. She had mistaken her neighbour for Jesus. How glad that man must have been if he ever knew. This was a part of our Lord's plan.
And at the very end, these successive invitations took the shape of a command, which was both a permission and an order, -- "Go ye." Men who had taken to heart, one after another, these invitations were ready for the command. They would be eager for it. The invitations were the Master's preparation for the command. He could trust such men to go, and to keep steady and true as they went, in the power He gave them. There is one word that you find in all these invitations -- "Me." They all centre about the Lord Jesus. He is the centre of gravity drawing every one, in ever growing nearness and meaning, to Himself. It is only when we have been drawn into closest touch with Him that we are qualified to "go" to others. It's only Himself in us, only as much of Himself as is in us, that will be helpful to any one else, or will make any one else willing to break with his old way. He is the only magnet to draw men away from the old life up to Himself.
But there's one other invitation which belongs in this list. It proves to be the greatest of them all, because you come to find it includes all these others. It's His "Follow Me." It seems at first glance to be the same as that "Come after Me." But it is the word He repeated again and again, under different circumstances, with added explanations, to the same men, until you feel that He meant it to stand out as the great invitation to His disciples. It seems to mean different things at different times. That is to say, it grew in its significance. It came to mean more than it had seemed to.
Peter is a good illustration here. The word really came to him five times, with a different, an added, meaning each time. His first following meant acquaintance. John the Herald had sent his disciples, John and Andrew, along after Jesus as He was walking one day on the Jordan river road. They followed Jesus to their first acquaintance in a two hours' talk, which quite satisfied their hearts as to who He was. John never forgot that first following. Every detail of it stands out in his memory when long years after he began to write his story of the Master. Andrew went at once to hunt up Peter, and brought him face-to-face with his newly found Friend and Master. That interview settled things for Peter. Andrew's following now included his. Following meant the beginning of the personal friendship which was to mean so much for both of them.
It was about a year after, that "Follow Me" had a new meaning to Peter and some others. The invitation was an illustrated one this time, illustrated by a living picture of just what it meant. It was one morning by the Lake of Galilee. Peter and his partners had had a poor night's fishing, and were out on shore washing their nets. The Master had come along, with a great crowd pressing in to get closer and hear better. There was danger of the crowd pushing the Master into the water. The Master borrowed Peter's boat for a pulpit. Peter sat facing the crowd while the Master talked to them.
Was that the first time the spell of a crowd began to get its subtle heart-hold on Peter as he looked into their hungry eyes? Who can withstand the great appeal of the crowd's eyes? Not our Lord, nor any that have caught His spirit. Then the great draught of fishes, after the fishless night, made Peter feel the Master's power. Fishes would make him feel it, being a fisherman, as nothing else would. The sense of Jesus' power, and with it a sense of purity -- interesting how the power made him feel the purity -- this brought him to his knees at our Lord's feet with the confession of his own sinfulness.
Peter was greatly moved that morning, greatly shaken. A new experience of tremendous power had come to him. And out of it came a new life, a radical change as he left the old occupation, fishing, boats, father, means of livelihood, and entered upon the new life. "Follow Me" meant a radical change of life, constant companionship with Jesus, sharing His life, going to school, getting ready for leadership and service; yes, and for suffering too. He entered the Master's itinerant training school that morning. A man needs a sight of the Lord Jesus' power, a feel of it, before he is fit to serve, or even to go to school to get ready for service.
It was some months after this that another meaning grew into the words "Follow Me," and grew out of them. The words are not spoken this time, but acted. Out of the group of disciples that He had gathered about Him our Lord prayerfully chose out Peter with the others to be sent out as His messenger to others.Part of the schooling was over; now a new part, a new term of school, was to begin. He gave them a special talk that morning, and sent them out to teach and heal and do for the crowds what He had been doing.
He called them Apostles, Sent-ones, Missionaries. "Follow Me" now meant going to others. It meant more -- power, power to do for men all the Master Himself had done. First, power felt that early morning by the lake, now power given. That was a great advance in training. Power had to be felt before it could be given, and has to be felt before it can be used. Only as the power takes hold of our inner hearts to the feeling point, will it ever take hold of others. And no life is changed through our service till power takes hold of us to the feeling point.
The Deeper Meaning.
But there was a special session of the "Follow Me" school one day, a very serious session.They had to be shown the red threads in the weave of the word. The words had to be held under the knife, so they could look into the cut, and see the deeper meaning. "Follow Me" had to take deeper hold of them yet, if His power was to get the deeper hold of them, and, by and by, get hold of the needy crowds. The very setting of the words gives the new meaning to them. John had felt the keen edge of Herod's axe blade, and was now in the upper presence. They were up in the far northern part because of the growing danger threatening Him by the leaders.
It is the turning point where our Lord Jesus begins to tell them that He was to suffer. Their ears could not take in the words. Their dazed eyes show that they think they could not have heard aright, -- He to suffer! What could this mean? They hadn't figured on this when they left the nets and boats to follow. There had been a rosy glamour filling impulsive Peter's self-confident sky. Now this black storm cloud! Then to Peter's foolhardy daring came words spoken with a new intense quietness that made the words quiver: "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and 'Follow Me.'"
This was startling to a terrific degree. Here was a new, strange, perplexing combination -- "deny himself," and "cross," coupled with His "Follow Me." What could He mean? This was surely some of His intensely figurative language again, they think. Yes, it surely was; and it stood for a yet intenser experience. "Follow Me" means sacrifice. It means a going down as well as a going up. And it proves to mean that one can go up in power and service, only as far as he has gone down in the obedience that includes sacrifice. Did Peter take in the meaning that day? I think not. Actions speak louder than words.
That betrayal night a few short months after, when the actual cross was almost in actual sight, he "followed Him afar off." Without knowing it, that was as far as he had ever really followed thus far. He wanted to keep as "far off" from that cross as possible. He always had. He baulked at its first mention, baulked tremendously. Yet he "followed." Poor Peter! he was in a terrible strait betwixt two, this wondrous Master whom he really loved, and this threatening cross of nails and thongs and thorns. It was a stiff struggle between heart and flesh; between the longing of his love and the shrinking from pain and hardship and shame. And Peter's kinsfolk are still having the same struggle. A great many stop here. This is going too far! They prefer staying by the easier "Follow Me's," and forgetting this one. Yes, and go on living powerless lives, and engaging in powerless service, when the crowds were never so needy.
Peter didn't follow this time. The road was too rough. He stumbled and fell badly. Badly? Still no worse than many others. When he got up he was still facing the same way. You can always tell a man's mettle by the way he faces as he gets up after a bad fall.
Six months or so after there came another "Follow Me," to Peter. No, it wasn't another; it was the same one, the one he hadn't accepted. Peter was to have another opportunity at the same place where he fell so badly. How patient our Lord Jesus was -- and is.
It was one morning just after breakfast -- a rare breakfast -- on the edge of the lake, after as poor a night's fishing as that other time. Again the touch of power revealed the Master's presence. Again Peter had a special word with the Master while the others are hauling in the fish. Now breakfast's over and the seven are grouped about the One, listening. The Lord's quiet skilled hand touches the heart meaning of "Follow Me." Its real meaning is a love meaning. Do you love? Then "Follow Me." Then you must follow, your love draws you after, even though the path be rough and broken. This is the same "Follow Me" that Peter baulked at so badly months before. Its meaning had not changed. It would mean a death, Peter is plainly told. But now Peter baulks no longer. The Master's great love had taught Him how really to love. And now not even a cross for himself would or could keep him from following close up to such a Master.
Here is the meaning of "Follow Me" as it worked out in Peter's experience -- acquaintance, a new life, schooling, service, a sight of sacrifice, and a baulking, then -- a sight of Jesus on the cross, and then a willingness to go on even though it meant the sorest sacrifice. This is an etching of the road Peter actually went, an etching in black and white, with the black very black. Is it a picture of your road? But perhaps you have never filled out the last part -- still back at that baulking place. In the thick of our present life, in the noise and din of the street of modern life, comes as of old the quiet, clear, insistent call "Follow Me."
Getting in Behind.
But, some one says, how can we really follow this Lone Man, our Lord Jesus Christ? He was so pure in His life, stainless in motive, and unstained in character. And we -- well, the nearer we get to Him the more instinctively we find Peter's lakeshore cry starting up within, "I am a sinful man." His very presence makes us feel the sin, the sin-instinct, the old selfish something within. How can we really follow? And the answer that comes is a real answer. It answers the inner heart-cry.
It is this: we begin where He ended. The cross was the end of His life. It must be the beginning of ours. It was the climax of His obedience. All the lines of His life come together at the cross. It is the beginning for us. All the lines of our lives, the lines of purity, of character, of service, of power, run back to the one starting point. And we come to find -- some of us pretty slowly -- that it is only the lines that do start there that lead to anything worth while. The starting point for the true life, and for real service is very clear. And if any of us have made a false start, it will be a tremendous saving to drop things and go back and get the true start. "The blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth from all sin" -- this is the only point from which to start the "Follow Me" life. "Follow Me" does not mean imitation. It means reincarnation. It's some One coming to re-live His life in us. He died that His life might be loosed out to be relived in us.
I have already spoken of this as being a call to friendship. All the rest that comes is meant to be what naturally grows out of this friendship. Peter never forgot his last "Follow Me" call. "Lovest thou Me?" Then thou mayest follow. This greatly sweetens all the rest. It's all for Him! -- our friend. Out of this personal relation comes service, power in service, suffering because of opposition to Him whom we serve, and joy because we may suffer on His account.
Matthew became His friend that day down at the little customs-shed at the Capernaum water edge. And out of that friendship grew our first gospel. John lived very close, and out of his intimacy came the gospel that reveals to us most the inner heart of our Lord, and His own intimacy of relation with the Father. And out of that friendship came, too, not only John's wonderful little "abiding" epistle, but the Revelation book, which gives us an inkling of the coming in of the Kingdom time that lies so near to our Lord's heart. Out of such intimacy of touch grew Stephen's ringing address before the Jewish council, and -- his stormy, stony exit, out and up into his Master's presence.
And time would fail me to tell of those in every corner of the earth, and every generation since our Lord was here, who have served and suffered because they loved Him and followed. Hidden away in the rocks and caves of France from the fires of persecution, the Huguenots sang their favourite hymn:
"I have a friend so precious,
I could not live apart from Him,
When I was in China a year ago, my heart caught some of the distant echoes of that sort of singing, by Chinese Christians, in the midst of the fiery persecutions of the Boxer time. And I heard the same sad, glad undertone last year out in Corea, in the homes we visited, whose loved ones were behind prison bars for their Friend's sake.
One of the latest chapters of this friendship's outcome is only just closed in the story of that quiet, young friend of the Lord Jesus, William Whiting Borden, who sat down a little while ago, and so placed the wealth left him that the world might learn of his Friend, and then went out and laid down his life in Egypt in this same passion of friendship. So the earth's sod in every corner has known the fertilizing of such friendship blood, and shall some day know a wondrous harvest under our great Friend's own gleaning.
And this is why He asks us to follow. He needs our help. Our Lord Jesus gave His precious life blood to redeem the world, to set it free from its sin-slavery. But there are two parts to that redemption, His and ours. These two parts are strikingly brought out by a single word in the beginning of the book of Acts, the word "began." Luke says that what he has been writing in his Gospel of the life and death of Jesus was only a beginning. This was what "He began both to do and to teach." It is usually explained that what our Lord Jesus began in the Gospels, the Holy Spirit continued to do in the Acts, and to teach in the Epistles. And this is no doubt true. But there is still more here. The Holy Spirit continued and continues through men what He began through Jesus. There is a second part to the work of redemption, our part, the Holy Spirit working through us. There had to be a first part; that was the great part. There could be no second without a first. That first part was done when our Lord Jesus was hurt to death for us. That is the great first part. Yet in doing that He had but begun something. He touched Palestine. We are to cover the earth. He touched one nation; we are to go to all nations. We are to continue what He began. The work of redemption was finished on the cross so far as He was concerned; but not yet finished so far as its being taken to "all the world" was concerned. He needs us. This is why He asks us to follow. He needs our co-operation.
The second great factor in carrying out what He began is -- how shall I put it? Shall I say, men and the Holy Spirit? You say, "No, change that, say the Holy Spirit and men. Put the Spirit first." Well, the order of these two depends on where you are standing. If you are standing at the Father's right hand, you say "the Holy Spirit and men." For the power is all in the Holy Spirit. He is the power. There can be nothing done without Him. Whatever is done in which He is not dominant amounts to nothing. How I wish we men might have that tremendous fact grip us in these days when the whole emphasis is on organization.
But, very reverently let me say this, and I say it thus plainly that we may know how much our Lord Jesus is depending on us, how really He needs us, -- this, that since we are on the earth, in the place of human action, where the fighting is to be done, it is accurate to say with utmost reverence, "men and the Holy Spirit." For mark keenly, the initiative is in human hands. God's action has always waited on human action. The power is only in the Holy Spirit. The most astute and strong leadership amounts to nothing without Him flooding it with His presence. But the power needs a channel. The Spirit needs men strongly pliant to His will. The great world-plan waits, and always has waited, for willing men. And so our great Friend asks us to follow because He really needs us in His plan.
Have you ever noticed the picture in the word "follow"? You remember that the earliest language was picture language. And it is a great help sometimes to dig down under a word and get the picture. Here, it is a man standing on a roadway, earnestly beckoning, and pointing to the road he is in. The Old Testament word means literally "same road." The very word the Master Himself used means "in behind."
To-night this wondrous Lord Jesus stands just ahead. His face still shows where the thorns cut and the thongs tore. But there is a marvellous tenderness and pleading in those great patient eyes. His hand is reached out beckoning, and you cannot miss the hole in the palm of it. The hand points to the road He trod for us. And His voice calls pleadingly, "Take this same road; get in behind. I need your help with My world."
And yet -- and yet -- -- . Do you remember one time our Lord turned to the crowds that were following and told them it would be better to count up the cost before deciding to be His disciples? He feared if they didn't there would be "mocking" by outsiders because His followers' lives didn't square with their profession. His fear seems to have been well founded. There seems to be quite a bit of that sort of mocking. It's better to count the cost, to know what following really means. A Salvation Army officer in Calcutta tells about a young handsome Hindu of an aristocratic family. One day he came in, drew out a New Testament, and asked the meaning of the words, "sell whatsoever thou hast," in the story of the rich young ruler. The Salvationist told him it meant that if a man's possessions stood in the way of his becoming a Christian he must be willing, if need be, to dispose of them for the needy. To his surprise the young man quietly said, "I fear you don't understand."
"Do you want to be a Christian?"
"Yes, but I'm not willing to sell all that I possess."
After a little more talk the young Indian left. Sometime after he appeared at one of the Salvation Army meetings, and when the opportunity was given for those who would accept Christ to kneel at the altar, at once he started forward. But instantly a storm broke out in the crowded meeting. A group of men rushed forward, shouting angrily, seized the young man and bore him bodily out while the crowd watched in terror. A few weeks later the young man turned up again, asking to be taken in and quietly saying, "I have begun to sell all."
Then his story came out. A Bible had come into his hands; the character and call of the Lord Jesus made a great appeal to him. He was haunted by the words, "sell whatsoever thou hast." He felt he knew what it meant for him. His family heard of his interest in Christianity. They belonged to the highest class, were wealthy and officially connected with the heathen temple-worship. They did their best to dissuade him, then finding that useless, they kept watch, and had him forcibly taken from the meeting where he was about to openly confess Christ. The entreaties of his father and mother shook him greatly but failed to change his decision. He had been imprisoned, chained hand and foot, and scantily fed, but all to no purpose. Then he managed to escape and came to the one Christian place he knew, the Salvation Army, and asked to be taken in.
After about two weeks he disappeared as abruptly as he came. Then one day he came back, and told his Salvation friend that he had been carried to Benares, their holy city, and forced to bathe in the Ganges. "But," he said, "as I stood in the water of the Ganges, I said, 'Lord Jesus, wash me in Thy precious blood,' and when I was forced to bow to idols, I bowed my soul to the eternal Father and said, 'Thou art God alone.'" His mother had implored him on her knees not to disgrace them; his tutor, whom he loved dearly, and his brothers had joined the father in their plea not to bring such shame on the family. "Well," the Salvationist said, "now, you know the meaning of 'sell whatsoever thou hast'" "Not yet," he said, "but I have sold nearly all."
Again he came back and said quietly, "I have sold all." He appeared deeply grief-stricken, and yet there was a light shining in his eye. In answer to questions he said, "I have not only ceased to be a Brahmin, I have ceased to be a human being. I am not only an outcast, I am dead. I have neither father, mother, brothers, nor sisters. I have been burned in effigy, and the ashes buried. It was not the effigy they burned; it was I. My father would not recognize me now if he met me on the street, nor would my mother. I am dead. I have been buried. It is the end. I have sold all." He had counted the cost. Then though it meant so much, he followed. The rich young Jew to whom the words were first spoken, saw things bigger than Jesus; the rich young Hindu saw Jesus bigger. Each held to what he prized most, and let the other go. Would it not be better if we were to count the cost, and then deliberately decide? and if it be to follow, then follow all the way? I want to talk a little later about what it means to follow. I hope this will help us a little in our calculations, in counting the cost before starting in to follow fully.
And yet, and yet, may the vision of the Lone Man in the road, beckoning, flood our eyes while we count the cost, even as with the young Hindu.