Every man needs power. Every earnest man covets power. Every willing man has the Master's promise of power. But every man does not possess the promised power. And many, it is to be feared, never will. Many a man's life to-day is utterly lacking in power. Some of us will look back at the close of life with a sense of keen disappointment and of bitter defeat. And the reason is not far to seek, nor hard to see through. If we do not have power it is because we are not willing to pay the price.
Everything costs. There is a law of exchange that rules in every sphere of life. It is this, "to get, you must give." It rules in the business world. If I want a house or a hat I must give the sum agreed upon. It rules in the intellectual world. If a young man wants a disciplined mind he must give time, and close application, and some real, hard work. It holds true in the spirit realm. If you and I wish to have business transactions in this upper world of spirit-life we must be governed by this same law. To have power in our lives over sin and selfishness, and passion, and appetite; over tongue, and temper, and self-seeking ambition; to have power in prayer, and in winning others over from sin to Jesus Christ, one must first lay down the required price.
What is the price of power? Turn to Jesus' talk with Peter and the others in the latter part of the sixteenth chapter of Matthew's gospel. Jesus has been telling them of the awful cross-experiences which He clearly saw ahead. Peter probably fearful that whatever came to his Master might possibly come to himself also, and shrinking back in horror from that, has the hardihood to rebuke Jesus. The Master, recognizing the suggestion as coming from a far subtler individual than Peter, who is using ignorant Peter's selfishness to repeat the suggestion of the wilderness, again bids him begone. Then in a few simple words of far-reaching significance, He states first the standard of power, and then the price to be paid by one who would reach that standard. Listen to Him: "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me."
In the Footprints of Jesus.
Let us look a little into these familiar words. "If any man would come after Me" -- that is the standard set before us. Not to be regarded as a pillar in the church, a leader in religious circles, a good Bible student, a generous giver, an earnest speaker, an energetic worker, a spiritually minded person, but, what may not be coupled with any or all of these admirable things, to tread in the footprints of Jesus.
Think back into that marvelous life. A human life, remember. For though He was Son of God He lived His life down here as a son of man. Think of His power over temptation, not alone at the outset in the fierce wilderness struggle, but through those succeeding years of intense conflict; His power over Satan, over man-possessing demons, over disease; His power in dealing with the subtle schoolmen trying their best to trip Him up, as well as over His more violent enemies who would have dashed Him over yon Nazareth precipice, or later stoned the life out of His body in Jerusalem. Recall the power of His rare unselfishness; His combined plainness and tenderness of speech in dealing with men; His unfailing love to all classes; His power as a soul winner, as a man of prayer, as a popular preacher, lovingly wooing men while unsparingly rebuking their sins. There is the suggestion of Jesus' standard of power. Would you go after Him? You may. For as the Father sent Him even so sends He us, to do the same work and live the same life.
But wait a moment before answering that question. There is another side in His life to that "come-after-me." Opposites brought into contact produce a violent disturbance. Such a life as that of Jesus, down in the atmosphere of this world will of necessity provoke bitter enmities, both then and now. Listen. He was criticized and slandered. They said He was peculiar and fanatical. His friends thought Him "beside Himself," swept off His feet by excessive, hot-headed enthusiasm. They "laughed Him to scorn," and reviled Him. They picked His words, and nagged His kindliest acts, and dogged His steps. Repeated attempts were made upon His life, both at Nazareth and by stoning at Jerusalem. A determined conspiracy against His life was planned by the Jerusalem officials six months before the end actually came. He was practically a fugitive for those months. At the last He was arrested and mocked and spit upon, struck with open hand and clenched fist, derisively crowned with thorns, and finally killed -- a cruel, lingering, tortured death.
"If any man would come after Me." Plainly this language of Jesus put back into its original setting begins to assume a new significance.
A Fixed Purpose.
But look at these words a little more closely. "If" -- it is an open question, this matter of following Jesus. It is kept open by many people who want to be known as christian, but who hesitate over what a plain understanding of Jesus' words may involve. Some of us may be disposed to shrink back from the simple meaning these words will yet disclose.
"If any man would" -- would is the past tense of will. The word will is one of the strongest in our language. A man's will is the imperial part of him. It is the autocrat upon the throne; the judge upon the bench of final appeal. Jesus is getting down to the root of matters here. He is appealing to the highest authority. No mere passing sentiment is this. Not attending a meeting and being swept along with the crowd by the hour's influence. But a fixed purpose, calmly, resolutely settled upon, rooted away down deep in the very vitals of the will to follow Jesus absolutely, no matter what it may cost or where it may cut.
I wonder how many of us would form such a purpose, to follow Jesus blindly, utterly regardless of what it might be found to mean as the days come and go? "Oh, well," I hear some one say, "why talk like that. Nobody is required to suffer to-day as He did." Do you think not? I am not so sure about that. There is a young man in Southern India, bright fellow, full of power, of high class family, who heard of Jesus, and felt the personal appeal to himself of that marvelous story. He thought a good while of what it meant, and what it might involve, and at length resolutely formed his decision to accept and follow Jesus. As he had anticipated, his dear ones remonstrated with him, coaxed, pleaded, threatened, and finally, his own father violently put him out of his life-long home, and he has remained since an outcast from home and loved ones. These words of Jesus surely are full of significance to him.
"But that was in India, far off, heathen India," you say. Well, here is something of a similar sort at home. I knew a young woman in a certain New England town visiting away from home. She attended some meetings where she was visiting, and decided to be a christian. She was betrothed to a young man, not a christian, in her home town. At once she wrote him explaining her new step thinking, doubtless how glad he would be. For most men seem very willing to have their wives christian. But he wrote back that if she were determined to be a christian that must put an end to their engagement. He was not a christian and did not want his wife to be one. Every one here must know how serious a question that brought up for decision. For she was a true woman, and love's tendrils twine with wondrous tenacity about a woman's heart. And I presume, too, that everyone of you has already thought while I am speaking, of the temptation that, quick as a flash, went through her mind. "You need not make a public matter of this. Just be a true christian in heart and life, and in that way you'll win him over afterwards." I imagine some of you have heard something like that before. But she remembered that her new Master said "Confess" as well as "believe." It was a crisis; a severe struggle of soul. But she felt she must follow her Master's leading regardless of what it involved. And so she decided. You are not surprised to know that she was ill for a time. The intense strain of spirit affected her body. "If -- any -- man -- would -- come -- after -- Me" meant much to her. Did it not?
Without doubt if some of us listening to-day were to follow Jesus quietly, but absolutely, in all things as His own Spirit plainly led, we would find as sharp a line of separation drawn against us, as did He in Palestine, and these young people in India and America.
Many a social door would be shut in our faces. O, shut politely of course! Society thinks it in very bad form to get unduly excited about mere matters of religious opinion. But the door is shut, and barred, too. Some of us would possibly be searching for other business positions before to-morrow's light faded away if we were determined to go only where He clearly pointed the way.
But we have only begun to get at the meaning of Jesus' words. Is there still a fixed purpose to follow regardless of what meaning these words may yet disclose? Not impossibly the company of those willing to go straight through this verse with a calm, determined "yes" to every word of Jesus, will grow smaller as we go on.
A Character Sketch.
Let us go a little farther. "If any man would come after Me let him deny himself." "Deny himself" -- what does that mean? Well, deny means to say "no," plainly and positively. Himself is the smoother English word for his self. Let him say "no" to his self. Please notice that Jesus is not speaking of what is commonly called self-denial. That is, repressing some desire for a time, sacrificing something temporarily in order to gain an advantage later. That sort of thing is not peculiar to the christian life, but is practiced by all classes, even among the lowest. He is not speaking of that, but of something far more radical. Reading the verse through again, it will be seen that there are three distinct persons referred to by Jesus. First, the "any man" He speaks of, and then the two others represented by these words "himself" and "Me," either one or the other of whom is influencing this "any man's" life. "Say no to his self" is coupled with "follow Me." And the opposite is implied -- if any man will not do as I desire, he will continue to do as he is now doing, namely, deny Me and follow his self.
These two persons self and Jesus are placed here in sharpest contrast. An uncompromising antagonism exists between them. They are sworn foes, and every man must decide to which he will yield his allegiance. To agree with either one is to oppose the other one. For a man to settle some matter that comes up for decision by saying "yes" to the desires or demands of his self involves his saying "no" to Jesus. And on the other hand his yielding assent to the plans and wishes of this "me," namely Jesus, is plainly equivalent to saying "no" to his self.
What is this self in each of us that Jesus sets in such antagonism to Himself, and instructs us to say a hard, uncompromising, unceasing "no" to? There are a few words in common use that give some suggestion of its character. There is the word selfish, that is, being absorbed in one's own self; in getting every stream to flow by his own door. That is commonly regarded, even in absolutely worldly circles, as a detestable trait. Its opposite, self-forgetful, being full of forgetting one's self in thinking of others, is as commonly regarded in all circles as a charming, winsome trait of character. The words self-centered, and self-willed, are as familiar and suggestive.
The fact is, there is an individual living inside each one of us whom Jesus refers to, by this word "his self." This individual takes on the degree of intensity and other local coloring of the person it inhabits. It may be polished, scholarly, cultured; or, coarse, ignorant and ill-mannered. But "scratch a Russian and you find a Tartar." Scratch through the veneering here and, whether coarse or highly polished, you will find the same individual -- self.
There are some quite marked characteristics by which its presence may be recognized. They may not all be noticeable together in any one person. But one or more will be found in every person whom it succeeds in influencing and dominating. One characteristic is this: it covets praise. It feeds and fattens on commendation. It constantly seeks to be highly esteemed, to have its worth properly appraised. It is immensely impressed with its own importance, its value to society, its keenness, wisdom or aptness, and wishes others to be so impressed also. It is fond of a mirror, especially one made to magnify. It seeks recognition. It presses forward, rudely or politely, according as its habitat has been trained in rude or polite circles. It may put on the garb of humility, and use the language of depreciation. But its ear is none the less keenly alert to hear the agreeable things and to cherish them.
Another characteristic, which really is simply the other side of this first named one, is this: it shrinks from criticism. How it writhes and twists at the least touch of unfavorable criticism! It is always on the defensive. The cheek colors at the suggestion of its being wrong, or having blundered, or of being peculiar.
How quickly it explains and defends and brings evidence of its being in the right. It is extremely sensitive. "It is that touchy thing in you." It is chronically troubled with "the disease of touchiness." Its feelings are readily hurt. It is easily slighted. It remembers grievances. It has an interrogation point constantly on sentinel duty, namely, What will they think? What will they say? It lives in constant fear, under the lash of that huge, vague, awful they.
I remember knowing a Sunday school teacher who had a mission class of rather rough boys from non-christian homes. I asked one day how she was getting along with them. "Going to give them up," she replied. "Is that so? They have all become christians?" No, none of them were christians, and they liked her, and said they would not come if she gave them up, but she felt discouraged, and anyway she had decided to give them up. Lawyers and women do not always give their reasons, very wisely. I ventured to suggest that before giving them up, she have the boys come up to her home, one at a time, perhaps for tea; have a pleasant chatty time at tea and afterwards, and then before the boy left have a quiet friendly talk with him by himself about being a christian, and, a few words of prayer with him. Wouldn't she try that before giving them up? And I remember distinctly that her face blushed as red as a bright red rose, as she replied, "Why, Mr. Gordon, he'd laugh at me!" And she could not bear the possible chance of being laughed at for the other more likely possibility of winning a soul -- a man -- a life. That was "self" in her, shrinking back from a laugh; dreading that look of possibly contemptuous surprise that might come.
Another person, speaking about certain recreations very common in society, and which he was in the habit of joining, though freely questioning the propriety of so doing, said, "O, I don't care much for those things. I could easily give them up, but people think you are so queer if you decline, and you feel as if you were a back number." Ah! there was the rub. The desire to be thought well of; the dislike of being considered peculiar; the fear of that thinly veiled sneering curl on the lip -- that was self in him asserting its presence, and even more, ruling his action. Do you recognize the individual inside of you that Jesus is speaking of?
There is a third tell-tale ear-mark of self that is difficult to conceal -- it is assertive. It dearly loves to have its own way. It has plans and ambitions, and proposes to carry them through regardless of man, or -- let the plain truth be spoken softly -- of God. Its opinions are held tenaciously. Its favorite pronoun is I, capitalized, with variations of my and me. The personal equation is extremely powerful and persuasive.
The true follower of Jesus holds every plan subject to change from above. But this self, if allowed to rule, takes the bit in its tightly-shut teeth, and drives determinedly ahead, reckless of either man's or God's preferences, even though religious phraseology may be upon its tongue.
Still another trait of character of this self whose closer acquaintance we are making is this: It has an insatiable appetite. It grows hungrier by that on which it feeds. Its capacity is beyond the measuring line. If given free rein it will debase the holiest functions of the body, and degrade the highest powers of the mind to appease its gnawing, passion-bitten hunger. The noblest gifts, the purest emotions, the most sacred relationships, are dragged down to the slimy gutter to tempt and temporarily stay its jaded palate.
That is something of a suggestion of the character of this other master than Jesus, who seeks to get control of us, and from whose relentless, vise-like grip Jesus would fain free us. He says there is only one thing to do with it. No half-way compromise -- the great American expedient -- will do here. The Master says plainly it is to be denied, repressed, put determinedly down, starved, strangled. To every suggestion or demand there is to be a prompt, positive, jaw-locked no.
There is war to the knife, and the knife clear up to the hilt, between these two claimants for the control of our powers -- self and Jesus. Paul understood this antagonism thoroughly. It comes out repeatedly in his writings. His name for this inner enemy, by an accidental turn in English, is Jesus' word "self" spelled backwards with the letter "h" added -- f-l-e-s-h. His remarks in Romans, eighth chapter, verses four to eight, and twelve to thirteen, are simply an enlargement of these words in the sixteenth of Matthew's gospel. If one will read these verses, substituting Jesus' word "self" for Paul's word he will be surprised to find how strikingly Paul is expressing this very thought of Jesus. A free translation of part of these verses would read like this: Verse five -- "They that choose to walk after self (as a slave walked after, or behind, his master) will show their choice by obeying the desires of self, and they that choose to walk after the Spirit will obey the desires of the Spirit." Verse seven -- "For the purposes of self are opposed to God's purposes; for it does not hold itself subject to God's wishes; indeed, in its very nature it cannot; and they that choose to obey self cannot please God." Verse thirteen -- "If by the Holy Spirit's aid ye kill off the plans and doings of self, ye shall therein find real true life, and only so."
Plainly, the deep searching experiences of Paul's great soul, and his wide observation of others, in his ceaseless travels, confirm the statements already made, that there is the intensest hatred, the bitterest antagonism, between these two personalities represented by Jesus' words, "himself" and "me." There can be no patched-up truce here. The only way the lion and the lamb can lie down together in this case is for the one to lie down underneath the other -- conquered; or inside the other -- devoured.
In his other letters Paul sometimes uses still another name, "the old man," and names the characteristics of this omnipresent self, which crop out with varying degrees of prominence, in different persons, and under different circumstances. Notice only a few of these: In Galatians, fifth chapter, nineteenth verse: "The deeds of self are ... improper sexual intercourse, impurity, shameless looseness...." It will, wherever possible, debase the holiest functions of the body. In Colossians, third chapter, fifth verse, speaking of the "old man": "And covetousness, which is reckoning of highest worth that which is less worthy than God." That is to say, the ambitious longings of self, will if unchecked become the ruling passion, thrusting all else ruthlessly aside and degrading the highest powers of the mind to satisfying its feverish desire. In Ephesians, fourth chapter, thirty-first verse: "Bitterness, passion, anger, loud disputing, evil-speaking ... malice." Its assertiveness, and demand for a due recognition of its worth, its rights, its opinions, its proper place, bring bitterest burnings, and worse. It will not be needful to review congressional, and political, and society life for illustrations. They may be found much nearer one's own door.
Was there ever such a list? Such a being whose heart begets and nurses such progeny! This being has the smell of hell, and of the evil one himself. Ah! now we are getting at the straight truth. Self is Satan's personal representative in every human heart. Its door of entrance is the door of disobedience. It can have control only where one allows himself to get out of intelligent sympathy with God. The self in Peter was recoiling from that cross of which Jesus spoke. How keen Jesus was in recognizing the suggestor of the thought that found expression through Peter's lips -- "Get thee behind me, Satan." Self is Satan, condensed into each man's life, though in some he dare not exhibit his coarser traits; and in others he is being constantly conquered by that power of the Spirit of Jesus which comes through absolute, glad surrender to Him.
This sly Satan-self may often be recognized by a favorite question it asks among christian people about a great many so-called unimportant matters: -- What's the harm? But a true follower of Jesus never lives down upon the plane of "what's-the-harm?" He lives up in a higher sphere with his Master, who "pleased not Himself," but made it the steady, unfaltering aim of His life to do always those things that were pleasing to His Father. Men thought Him narrow and fanatical, but He cared not so long as He could daily hear that clear, sweet voice saying "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The final touchstone which the follower of Jesus applies to every matter is this: Would it please Him?
Let everyone here who earnestly desires to fit into, and to fill out, Jesus' plan for his life, take paper and pencil and make a list of his personal habits; such as his eating, what he eats and how; his drinking, other things he puts into his mouth, his dress, the use and care of his body, his recreations, his reading, his conversation, his use of money, his use of time, his life plans and his daily plans, his social engagements; and regarding each ask plainly the question -- what is the motive that controls me in this? Is it my own preference or enjoyment? Or, is it to please and honor Jesus? Let him further go through the list of his business methods, his friendships, the various organizations he belongs to, with the same question. If he will do thorough work he will probably have some stiff fighting on hand both at the start and afterwards. Many a life would thereby be radically changed. For example, I know a christian storekeeper who has on his shelves a certain article bearing the label of a tonic medicine, but he knows perfectly well, as does anyone who stops to think about it, that the stuff back of the label is one form of an intoxicant. There can be no question of what the Master would say about it. But it brings a good profit. And his money-fevered self asserts its mastery and carries the day. And the man tightly grips the profits, while Satan chuckles with unholy glee, and souls are being damned by this christian man's aid. Certainly there can be none of the power of God in such a life. Let us rather speak the truth and say that this man is exerting a positive power for Satan and for hell.
All this is included in these few simple words, "let him deny himself." Is there still a fixed purpose to follow Jesus without regard to what it may cost us, or where the keen edge of separation may cut in?
The Battle of the Forks.
Here is a forking of the road. I bring this whole company up to this dividing, and therefore deciding, point. Let each choose his own road deliberately, prayerfully, with open eyes. This road to the left has as its law, yielding to self; saying "yes" to the desires and demands of self; with some modifications possibly, here and there, for I am talking to professing christian people. Yes to Jesus sometimes, but at other times, when it suits circumstances and inclinations better to do otherwise -- well, a pushing of the troublesome question aside. And that means a decided yes to self, with as positive a negative to Jesus' desires implied thereby. That is the left-hand fork.
This right-hand road knows only one law to which exception is never made, namely: Yes to Jesus, everywhere, always, regardless of consequences, though it may entail loss of friendships, or money, or position, or social standing, or personal preference, or radical change of plans, or, what not.
Judas assented to the cravings of his ambitious self and said "no" to his Master, thinking possibly, with his worldly shrewdness, thereby to force Jesus to assert His power. He little knew what a time of crisis it was, and what terrific results would follow.
Peter stood on the side of his cowardly, shrinking self in the court-yard that dark night, and against his Master. And though with matchless love he was forgiven, he never forgave himself, nor was able to get that night's doings out of his memory. Judas and Peter were brothers in action that night, and there are evidences that many other disciples are standing over in the same group. Are you? Which road do you choose to-night: this -- to the left? Or, this -- to the right?
I knew a young man who was deeply attached to an admirable young woman, both refined christian persons, much above the average in native ability, and in culture. He made known to her his feelings. But as many a woman who does not trust her best Friend in such matters is apt to do she held him off, testing him repeatedly, to find out just how real his attachment was. Finally revealing indirectly her own feeling she still withheld the consent he pleaded for, until he would yield acquiescence in a certain plan of hers for him. The plan, proper enough in itself, was an ambitious one, and tended decidedly toward swinging him away from the high, tenderly spiritual ideals that had swayed his life in college and afterwards, though he probably was not clearly conscious of this tendency. The only safe thing to do under such strong circumstances was to take time, aside, alone, for calm, poised, thought and prayer, to learn if her plan was also the Master's plan for him. But the personal element proved too strong for such deliberation. The possibility of losing her swung him off of his feet. It was no longer a question between her plan and the Master's plan. The latter dropped out of view, probably half-unconsciously because hurriedly. He must have her, he thought. That rose before his eyes above all else. And so the decision was made. With what result? He is to-day prominent in christian service, an earnest speaker, a tireless worker, with a most winsome personality. But his inner spiritual life has perceptibly dwarfed. His ideals, still high and noble, are distinctly lower than in his earlier life. Intellectual ideals, admirable in themselves, but belonging in second place in a christian life, now command the field. His conceptions and understanding of spiritual truth have undergone a decided change.
The proposal of the self-life came in very fascinating guise to him. He hastily said "yes" to it: that meant as decided a refusal of Another's plan for him, which had once been clearly recognized, and accepted, but was now set aside, be it sadly said, as he swung quickly off to the left fork of the road.
There is an incident told of a European pastor, an earnest, eloquent man. The realization came in upon him that he had not been fully following the Master. In much of his life self was still ruling. He came to this forking of the road, and the battle was a fierce one, for self dies hard. But finally "by the Spirit," he got the victory, as every one may, and calmly stepped off to the right. He has vividly described that battle of the forks in language, the accuracy of which will be recognized by others who have been in action on that field.
"Oh, the bitter shame and sorrow,
"Yet He found me: I beheld him
"Day by day, His tender mercy,
"Higher than the highest heaven,
Is there still a fixed purpose? Will you take this right fork? Let those who will, and those who linger reluctantly listen to the further word that Jesus adds: "Let him deny himself and take up his cross." "Take up his cross" -- what does that mean? The cross has come to be regarded in these days as a fine ornament. It looks beautiful bejeweled; on the end of a sword; or worked into regalia. It makes such an artistic finish to a church building, finely chiseled in stone, or enwreathed with ivy. It looks pretty in jewelry and flowers. But to Jesus and the men of His time it had a grim, hard, painful significance. In Roman usage a man condemned to this death was required to take up the crude wooden cross provided, carry it out to the place of execution, and there be transfixed upon it. Plainly to these men listening, Jesus' words meant: Let him say "no" to his self, and then nail it up on the cross and leave it there to die.
Paul understood this thoroughly. To help the young christians in Galatia he explains his own experience by saying: "I have been crucified with Christ;" and to the unknown friends in Rome he writes: "if ye by the Spirit put to death the doings of the self life ye shall live." The only thing to do with this self is to kill it.
In Luke's account an intensely practical word is added to Jesus' remark: "Let him take up his cross daily." A cat is said to have nine lives, because it is so hard to kill. I do not know what your experience may have been, but, judged by this rule, the self in me is tougher-lived than that. It has about ninety-nine, or nine hundred and ninety-nine lives. I put it on the cross to-day in the purpose of my will by the power of the Spirit, and I find it trying to sneak down and step into active control again to-morrow through some sly, subtle suggestion which it hopes may get past the vigilance of my sentinel. That word daily becomes, of necessity, my constant keynote -- a daily conflict, a daily sleepless vigilance, and, thank God, a daily victory.
Every man's heart is a battlefield. If self has possession, Jesus is lovingly striving to get possession. If possession has been yielded to Jesus, there is a constant besieging by the forces of self. And self is a skilled strategist. In every heart there is a cross, and a throne, and each is occupied. If Jesus is on the throne, ruling, self is on the cross, dying. But if self is being obeyed, and so is ruling, then it is on the throne. And self on the throne means that Jesus has been put on the cross. And it seems to be only too pathetically true that not only in New Testament times, but in these times, there are numbers of professing christians, who, in the practice of daily life, are crucifying the Son of God afresh, and openly exposing Him to shame before the eyes of the crowd.
Suppose that to-night I determine to make this absolute surrender to Jesus as my Master. To-morrow in some matter, possibly a small matter -- speaking a word to some one -- asking a silent blessing at the meal -- making a change in some personal habit -- or some other apparently trivial matter -- the Spirit quietly makes clear His wish as to what I should do. But I hesitate: it seems hard. I do not say that I will not obey, but actually I do not. Let me plainly understand that in such a single failure to obey, self is again mounting the throne, and Jesus is being dethroned and put over yonder on the cross.
Do some of us still hesitate at this forking of the roads, irresolute? A crowned Christ is attractive. But self's tendrils, though small, are tenaciously tough, and twine into so many corners and around some hidden things. And the uprooting and outcutting mean sharp pain. Is that so? And you hesitate? Please take another frank look.
These two forks differ radically. They differ in direction. One is to the left; the other to the right. And these two words are significant of more than direction. They differ in grade. This left-hand road does not seem to have any grade. It is smooth and level, and straightaway, apparently. But a keener look reveals a slant down, very slight at first, but steadily increasing, not only in its downward grade, but in the proportionate grade down.
This right-hand road has a decided grade up from the beginning, a steep slant, that causes many to avoid it, though they feel impelled to take it. Those who take it say that after the first decided step into it the slant does not seem nearly so hard as before starting, and that climbing it makes splendid muscle and gives an inspiring sense of exhilaration from the very start. The atmosphere is rare and purifying and invigorating. It is not traveled by so many, though the number keeps increasing. But such rare companionship, hitherto unknown, they afford!
The striking peculiarity of this road, however, is this, that each one keeps lock-step with a certain One who leads the way. This One is remarkable in appearance. His face combines all the strength and resolution of the strongest man's with all the fineness and gentleness of the finest woman's. But He bears peculiar marks as though He had been through some terrible experience. His face has a number of small scars as though it had been torn by thorns and cut by thongs. His hands and feet look as though huge spikes had been forced through them. But the glory-light of another world is in His eyes, and illumines His face radiantly, and a glad ring is in His low, musical, singularly clear voice.
The walking in step with Him is so close that one can feel the tender throbbing of His heart, and can talk confidentially with Him in low, quiet tones, and can hear distinctly His gentle still-like voice in reply.
As one steps off quietly, determinedly to the right from the battle of the forks he hears the closing words of Jesus' remarks to Peter -- "and follow Me." Jesus sends no one ahead alone. He blazes out every path through the unknown, unbroken forest, and asks us simply to come along after Him. He did what He asks us to do. The self-life was alluringly and repeatedly presented to Him by Satan, in the wilderness, in the remark of Peter, by the visit of the Greeks, in Gethsemane where the struggle of soul almost broke the tie that held body and spirit together, and many other times. In many a hard battle -- for the divine Jesus was intensely human in His earthly life -- He repeatedly said a never-varying "no" to the self-life, and lived a constant victory until the very last triumphant shout of victory on Calvary. It was a life of constant conflict, but of splendid, calming, scarce-broken peace within, and of marvelous power without.
Earnestly, lovingly, gently, yet passionately, He stands just ahead in that path now, with pierced hands outstretched in open invitation, with a heart-yearning in the depths of His great eyes, wooing us on to follow where He goes on before.
Let us follow. It may be, it will be, in some measure, through the experiences of the wilderness temptation, and of Gethsemane, and of Calvary, but it will also be to share the victory which was always coupled with every testing He met. It will as certainly be following Him in power, and victory, on past Calvary to the new life of the resurrection morning, that saw the greatest display of power. And even past that, to the upper chamber where His words burn their way into our hearts -- "as the Father sent Me (clothed with power unconquerable) even so send I you." And then to Olivet where the victorious words ring out, "All power hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth, therefore go ye and make disciples."
"If any man
Jesus, Master, by the Holy Spirit's help, I will.