George Campbell Morgan, Congregational divine and preacher, was born in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, England, in 1863, and was educated at the Douglas School, Cheltenham. He worked as a lay-mission preacher for the two years ending 1888, and was ordained to the ministry in the following year, when he took charge of the Congregational Church at Stones, Staffordshire. After occupying the pulpit in several pastorates, in 1904 he became pastor of the Westminster Congregational Chapel, Buckingham Gate, London, a position which he still occupies. Besides being highly successful as a pulpit orator, Dr. Morgan has published many works of a religious character, among which may be enumerated: "Discipleship"; "The Hidden Years of Nazareth"; "Life's Problems"; "The Ten Commandments." His last work, "The Christ of To-day," has passed through several editions.
Born in 1863
THE PERFECT IDEAL OF LIFE
Jesus therefore said, When ye have lifted up the son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself, but as the Father taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me; he hath not left me alone; for I do always the things that are pleasing to him. As he spake these things, many believed on him. -- John viii., 28-30.
The Master, you will see, in this verse lays before us three things. First of all, He gives us the perfect ideal of human life in a short phrase, and that comes at the end, "the things that please him." Those are the things that create perfect human life, living in the realm of which man realizes perfectly all the possibilities of his wondrous being -- "the things that please him." So I say, in this phrase, the Master reveals to us the perfect ideal of our lives. Then, in the second place, the Master lays claim -- one of the most stupendous claims that He ever made -- that He utterly, absolutely, realizes that ideal. He says, "I do always the things that please him." And then, thirdly, we have the revelation of the secret by which He has been able to realize the ideal, to make the abstract concrete, to bring down the fair vision of divine purpose to the level of actual human life and experience, and the secret is declared in the opening words: "He that sent me is with me; my Father hath not left me alone."
The perfect ideal for my life, then, is that I live always in the realm of the things that please God; and the secret by which I may do so is here unfolded -- by living in perpetual, unbroken communion with God: communion with which I do not permit anything to interfere. Then it shall be possible for me to pass into this high realm of actual realization.
It is important that we should remind ourselves in a few sentences that the Lord has indeed stated the highest possible ideal for human life in these words: "The things that please him." Oh, the godlessness of men! The godlessness that is to be found on every hand! The godlessness of the men and women that are called by the name of God! How tragic, how sad, how awful it is! because godlessness is always not merely an act of rebellion against God, but a falling-short in our own lives of their highest and most glorious possibilities.
Here is my life. Now, the highest realm for me is the realm where all my thoughts, and all my deeds, and all my methods, and everything in my life please God. That is the highest realm, because God only knows what I am; only perfectly understands the possibilities of my nature, and all the great reaches of my being. You remember those lines that Tennyson sang -- very beautifully, I always think:
Flower in the crannied wall,
Beautiful confession! Absolutely true. I hold that flower in my hand, and I look at it, flower and leaves and stem and root. I can botanize it, and then I tear it to pieces -- that is what the botanist mostly does -- and you put some part of it there, and some part of it there, and some part of it there. There is the root, there the stem, and there are the leaves, and there is everything; but where is the flower? Gone. How did it go? When did it go? Why, when you ruthlessly tore it to bits. But how did you destroy it? You interfered with the principle that made it what it was -- you interfered with the principle of life. What is life? No man can tell you. "If I could but know what you are, little flower, root and all, and all in all," I would know what life is, what God is, what man is. I can not.
Now, if you lift that little parable of the flower into the highest realm of animal life, and speak of yourself -- we don't know ourselves; down in my nature there are reaches that I have not fathomed yet. They are coming up every day. What a blest thing it is to have the Master at hand, to hand them over to Him as they come up, and say, "Lord, here is another piece of Thy territory; govern it; I don't know anything about it." But there is the business. I don't know myself, but God knows me, understands all the complex relationships of my life, knows how matter affects mind, and physical and mental and spiritual are blended in one in the high ideal of humanity. Oh, remember, man is the crowning and most glorious work of God of which we know anything as yet. And God only knows man.
But here is a Man that stands amid His enemies, and He looks out upon His enemies, and He says, "I do the things that please him" -- not "I teach them," not "I dream them," not "I have seen them in a fair vision," but "I do them." There never was a bigger claim from the lips of the Master than that: "I do always the things that please him."
You would not thank me to insult your Christian experience, upon whatever level you live it, by attempting to define that statement of Christ. History has vindicated it. We believe it with all our hearts -- that He always did the things that pleased God. But I have got on to a level that I can touch now. The great ideal has come from the air to the earth. The fair vision has become concrete in a Man. Now, I want to see that Man; and if I see that Man I shall see in Him a revelation of what God's purpose is for men, and I shall see, therefore, a revelation of what the highest possibility of life is. Now this is a tempting theme. It is a temptation to begin to contrast Him with popular ideals of life. I want to see Him; I want, if I can, to catch the notes of the music that make up the perfect harmony which was the dropping of a song out of God's heaven upon man's earth, that man might catch the key-note of it and make music in his own life. What are the things in this Man's life? He says: "I have realized the ideal -- I do." There are four things that I want to say about Him, four notes in the music of His life.
First, spirituality. That is one of the words that needs redeeming from abuse. He was the embodiment of the spiritual ideal in life. He was spiritual in the high, true, full, broad, blest sense of that word.
It may be well for a moment to note what spirituality did not mean in the life of Jesus Christ. It did not mean asceticism. During all the years of His ministry, during all the years of His teaching, you never find a single instance in which Jesus Christ made a whip of cords to scourge Himself. And all that business of scourging oneself -- an attempt to elevate the spirit by the ruin of the actual flesh -- is absolutely opposed to His view of life. Jesus Christ did not deny Himself. The fact of His life was this -- that He touched everything familiarly. He went into all the relationship of life. He went to the widow. He took up the children and held them in His arms, and looked into their eyes till heaven was poured in as He looked. He didn't go and get behind walls somewhere. He didn't get away and say: "Now, if I am going to get pure I shall do it by shutting men out." You remember what the Pharisees said of Him once. They said: "This man receiveth sinners." You know how they said it. They meant to say: "We did hope that we should make something out of this new man, but we are quite disappointed. He receives sinners."
And what did they mean? They meant what you have so often said: "You can't touch pitch without being defiled." But this Man sat down with the publican and He didn't take on any defilement from the publican. On the other hand, He gave the publican His purity in the life of Jesus Christ. Things worked the other way. He was the great negative of God to the very law of evil that you have -- evil contaminates good. If you will put on a plate one apple that is getting bad among twelve others that are pure, the bad one will influence the others. Christ came to drive back every force of disease and every force of evil by this strong purity of His own person, and He said: "I will go among the bad and make them good." That is what He was doing the whole way through. So His spirituality was not asceticism. And if you are going to be so spiritual that you see no beauty in the flowers and hear no music in the song of the birds; if the life which you pass into when you consent to the crucifixion of self does not open to you the very gates of God, and make the singing of the birds and the blossoming of the flowers infinitely more beautiful, you have never seen Jesus yet.
What was His spirituality? The spirituality of Jesus Christ was a concrete realization of a great truth which He laid down in His own beatitudes. What was that? "Blest are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Now, the trouble is we have been lifting all the good things of God and putting them in heaven. And I don't wonder that you sing:
My willing soul would stay
No wonder you want to sing yourself away to everlasting bliss, because everything that is worth having you have put up there. But Jesus said: "Blest are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." If you are pure you will see Him everywhere -- in the flower that blooms, in the march of history, in the sorrows of men, above the darkness of the darkest cloud; and you will know that God is in the field when He is most invisible.
Second, subjection. The next note in the music of His life is His absolute subjection to God. You can very often tell the great philosophies which are governing human lives by the little catchwords that slip off men's tongues: "Well, I thank God I am my own master." That is your trouble, man. It is because you are your own master that you are in danger of hell. A man says: "Can't I do as I like with my own?" You have got no "own" to do what you like with. It is because men have forgotten the covenant of God, the kingship of God, that we have all the wreckage and ruin that blights this poor earth of ours. Here is the Man who never forgot it.
Did you notice those wonderful words: "I do nothing of myself, but as my Father taught me, I speak." He neither did nor spoke anything of Himself. It was a wonderful life. He stood forevermore between the next moment and heaven. And the Father's voice said, "Do this," and He said "Amen, I came to do thy will," and did it. And the Father's voice said, "Speak these words to men," and He, "Amen," and He spoke.
You say: "That is just what I do not want to do." I know that. We want to be independent; have our own way. "The things that please God -- this Man was subject to the divine will." You know the two words -- if you can learn to say them, not like a parrot, not glibly, but out of your heart -- the two words that will help you "Halleluiah" and "Amen." You can say them in Welsh or any language you like; they are always the same. When the next dispensation of God's dealings faces you look at it and say: "Halleluiah! Praise God! Amen!" That means, "I agree."
Third, sympathy. Now, you have this Man turned toward other men. We have seen something of Him as He faced God: Spirituality, a sense of God; subjection, a perpetual amen to the divine volition. Now, He faces the crowd. Sympathy! Why? Because He is right with God, He is right with men; because He feels God near, and knows Him, and responds to the divine will; therefore, when He faces men He is right toward men. The settlement of every social problem you have in this country and in my own land, the settlement of the whole business, will be found in the return of man to God. When man gets back to God he gets back to men. What is behind it? Sympathy is the power of putting my spirit outside my personality, into the circumstances of another man, and feeling as that man feels.
I take one picture as an illustration of this. I see the Master approaching the city of Nain, and around Him His disciples. He is coming up. And I see outside the city of Nain, coming toward the gate a man carried by others, dead, and walking by that bier a mother. Now, all I want you to look at is that woman's face, and, looking into her face, see all the anguish of those circumstances. She is a widow, and that is her boy, her only boy, and he is dead. Man can not talk about this. You have got to be in the house to know what that means. But look at her face -- there it is. All the sorrow is on her face. You can see it.
Now, turn from her quickly and look into the face of Christ. Why, I look into His face -- there is her face. He is feeling all she is feeling; He is down in her sorrow with her; He has got underneath the burden, and He is feeling all the agony that that woman feels because her boy is dead. He is moved with compassion whenever human sorrow crosses His vision and human need approaches Him. And now I see Him moving toward the bier. I see Him as He touches it. And He takes the boy back and gives him to his mother. Do you see in yon mountain a cloud, so somber and sad, and suddenly the sun comes from behind the cloud, and all the mountain-side laughs with gladness? That is that woman's face. The agony is gone. The tear that remains there is gilded with a smile, and joy is on her face. Look at Him. There it is. He is in her joy now. He is having as good a time as the woman. He has carried her grief and her sorrow. He has given her joy. And it is His joy that He has given to her. He is with her in her joy.
Wonderful sympathy! He went about gathering human sorrow into His own heart, scattering His joy, and having fellowship in agony and in deliverance, in tears and in their wiping away. Great, sympathetic soul! Why? Because He always lived with God, and, living with God, the divine love moved Him with compassion. Ah, believe me, our sorrows are more felt in heaven than on earth. And we had that glimpse of that eternal love in this Man, who did the things that pleased God, and manifested such wondrous sympathy.
Fourth, strength. The last note is that of strength. You talk about the weakness of Jesus, the frailty of Jesus. I tell you, there never was any one so strong as He. And if you will take the pains of reading His life with that in mind you will find it was one tremendous march of triumph against all opposing forces. About His dying -- how did He die? "At last, at last," says the man in his study that does not know anything about Jesus; "At last His enemies became too much for Him, and they killed Him." Nothing of the sort. That is a very superficial reading. What is the truth? Hear it from His own lips: "No man taketh my life from me. I lay it down of myself. And if I lay it down I have authority to take it again." What do you think of that? How does that touch you as a revelation of magnificence in strength? And then, look at Him, when He comes back from the tomb, having fulfilled that which was either an empty boast or a great fact -- thank God, we believe it was a great fact! Now He stands upon the mountain, with this handful of men around Him, His disciples, and He is going away from them. "All authority," He says, "is given unto me. I am king not merely by an office conferred, but by a triumph won. I am king, for I have faced the enemies of the race -- sin and sorrow and ignorance and death -- and my foot is upon the neck of every one. All authority is given to me."
Oh, the strength of this Man! Where did He get it? "My Father hath not left me alone. I have lived with God. I have walked with God. I always knew him near. I always responded to his will. And my heart went out in sympathy to others, and I mastered the enemies of those with whom I sympathized. And I come to the end and I say, All authority is given to me." Oh, my brother, that is the pattern for you and for me! Ah, that is life! That is the ideal! Oh, how can I fulfil it? I am not going to talk about that. Let me only give you this sentence to finish with, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." If Christ be in me by the power of the Spirit, He will keep me conscious of God's nearness to me. If Christ be in me by the consciousness of the spirit reigning and governing, He will take my will from day to day, blend it with His, and take away all that makes it hard to say, "God's will be done."