By S.D. Gordon
God Spelling Himself out in Jesus.
Jesus is God spelling Himself out in language that man can understand. God and man used to talk together freely. But one day man went away from God. And then he went farther away. He left home. He left his native land, Eden, where he lived with God. He emigrated from God. And through going away he lost his mother-tongue.
A language always changes away from its native land. Through going away from his native land man lost his native speech. Through not hearing God speak he forgot the sounds of the words. His ears grew dull and then deaf. Through lack of use he lost the power of speaking the old words. His tongue grew thick. It lost its cunning. And so gradually almost all the old meanings were lost.
God has always been eager to get to talking with man again. The silence is hard on Him. He is hungry to be on intimate terms again with his old friend. Of course he had to use a language that man could understand. Jesus is God spelling Himself out so man can understand. He is the A and the Z, and all between, of the Old Eden language of love.
Naturally enough man had a good bit of bother in spelling Jesus out. This Jesus was something quite new. When His life spoke the simple language of Eden again, the human heart with selfishness ingrained said, "That sounds good, but of course He has some selfish scheme behind it all. This purity and simplicity and gentleness can't be genuine." Nobody yet seems to have spelled Him out fully, though they're all trying: All on the spelling bench. That is, all that have heard. Great numbers haven't heard about Him yet. But many, ah! many could get enough, yes, can get enough to bring His purity into their lives and sweet peace into their hearts.
But there were in His days upon earth some sticklers for the old spelling forms. Not the oldest, mind you. Jesus alone stands for that. This Jesus didn't observe the idioms that had grown up outside of Eden. These people had decided that these old forms were the only ones acceptable. And so they disliked Him from the beginning, and quarrelled with Him. These idioms were dearer to them than life--that is, than His life. So having quarrelled, they did worse, and then--softly--worst. But even in their worst, Jesus was God spelling Himself out in the old simple language of Eden. His best came out in their worst.
Some of the great nouns of the Eden tongue--the God tongue--He spelled out big. He spelled out purity, the natural life of Eden; and obedience, the rhythmic harmony of Eden; and peace, the sweet music of Eden; and power, the mastery and dominion of Eden; and love, the throbbing heart of Eden. It was in biggest, brightest letters that love was spelled out. He used the biggest capitals ever known, and traced each in a deep dripping red, with a new spelling--s-a-c-r-i-f-i-c-e.
Jesus is God, following us up.
You see, the heart of God had been breaking--is breaking over the ways things have been going down on this planet. Folk fail to understand Him. Worse yet, they misunderstand Him, and feel free to criticize Him. Nobody has been so much slandered as God. Many are utterly ignorant of Him. Many others who are not ignorant yet ignore Him. They turn their faces and backs. Some give Him the cut direct. The great crowd in every part of the world is yearning after Him: piteously, pathetically, most often speechlessly yearning, blindly groping along, with an intense inner tug after Him. They know the yearning. They feel the inner, upward tug. They don't understand what it is for which they yearn, nor what will satisfy.
For man was made to live in closest touch with God. That is his native air. Out of that air his lungs are badly affected. This other air is too heavy. It's malarial, and full of gases and germy dust. In it he chokes and gasps. Yet he knows not why. He gropes about in the night made by his own shut eyes. He doesn't seem to know enough to open them. And sometimes he will not open them. For the hinge of the eyelid is in the will. And having shut the light out, he gets tangled up in his ideas as to what is light. He puts darkness for light, and light for darkness.
Once man knew God well; close up. And that means loved, gladly, freely. For here to know is to love. But one day a bad choice was made. And the choice made an ugly kink in his will. The whole trouble began there. A man sees through his will. That is his medium for the transmission of light. If it be twisted, his seeing, his understanding, is twisted. The twist in the will regulates the twist in the eye. Both ways, too, for a good change in the will in turn changes the eyes back to seeing straight. He that is willing to do the right shall clearly see the light.
But that first kink seems to have been getting worse kinked ever since. And so man does not see God as He is. Man is cross-eyed Godward, but doesn't know it. Man is color-blind toward God. The blue of God's truth is to him an arousing, angering red. The soft, soothing green of His love becomes a noisy, irritating yellow. Nobody has been so much misunderstood as God. He has suffered misrepresentation from two quarters: His enemies and His friends. More from--which? Hard to tell. Jesus is God trying to tell men plainly what He is really like.
The world turned down the wrong lane, and has been going that way pell-mell ever since. Yet so close is the wrong lane to the right that a single step will change lanes. Though many results of being in the wrong lane will not be changed by the change of lanes. It takes time to rest up the feet made sore by the roughness of the wrong lane. And some of the scars, where men have measured their length, seem to stay.
The result of that wrong turning has been pitiable. Separation from God, so far as man could make separation. There is no separation on God's part. He has never changed. He remains in the world, but because of man's turning his face away, He remains as a stranger, unrecognized. He remains just where man left Him. And any one going back to that point in the road will find Him standing waiting with an eager light glistening in His eyes. No! That's not accurate. He is a bit nearer than ever He was. He is following us up. He is only a step off. Jesus is God eagerly following us up.
The Early Eden Picture.
But one will never get to understand this Jesus until he gets a good look at man as he was once, and as he is now. The key to understanding Jesus is man, even as Jesus is the key to God. One must use both keys to get into the inner heart of God. To get hold of that first key one must go back to the start of things. The old Book of God opens with a picture that is fascinating in its simplicity and strength. There is an unfallen man. He is fresh from the hand of God, free of scar and stain and shrivelling influence. He is in a garden. He is walking hand in hand with God, and working side by side with God: friendship and partnership. Friends in spirit: partners in service.
The distinctive thing about the man is that he is like God. He and God are alike. In this he differs from all creation. He is God's link between Himself and His Creation. Particular pains is taken by repetition and change of phrase to make clear and emphatic that it was in the very image of God that man was made. Just what does it mean that we men were made in God's likeness? Well, the thing has been discussed back and forth a good bit. Probably we will not know fully till we know as we are known. In the morning when we see Him we shall be like Him fully again. Then we'll know. That morning's sun will clear up a lot of fog. But a few things can be said about it now with a positiveness that may clear the air a bit, and help us recognize the dignity of our being, and behave accordingly.
Man came into being by the breath of God. God breathed Himself into man. The breath that God breathed out came into man as life. The very life of man is a bit of God. Man is of the essence of God. Every man is the presence-chamber of God.
God is a Spirit. Man is a spirit. He lives in a body. He thinks through a mind. He is a spirit, using the body as a dwelling-place, and the mind as his keenest instrument. All the immeasurable possibilities and capacities of spirit being are in man.
God is an infinite spirit. That is, we cannot understand Him fully. He is very close to us. The relationship is most intimate, and tender, yet His fulness is ever beyond our grasp and our ken. Man is infinite in that he knows that God is infinite. Only like can appreciate like. He can appreciate that he cannot appreciate God, except in part. He understands that he does not understand God save in smaller part. He knows enough to love passionately. And through loving as well as through knowing he knows that there is infinitely more that he does not know. Only man of all earth's creation knows this. In this he is like God. The difference between God and man here is in the degree of infinity. That degree of difference is an infinite degree. Yet this is the truth. But more yet: man has this same quality manward. He is infinite in that he cannot be fully understood in his mental processes and motives. He is beyond grasp fully by his fellow. Even one's most intimate friend who knows most and best must leave unknown more than is known.
God is an eternal spirit. He has always lived. He will live always. He knows no end, at either end. All time before there was time, and after the time-book is shut, is to Him a passing present. Man is an eternal spirit, because of God. He will know no end. He will live always because the breath of God is his very being.
God is love. He yearns for love. He loves. And more, He is love. Man is like God in his yearning for love, in his capacity for love, and in his lovableness. Man must love. He lives only as he loves. True love, and only that, is the real life. He will give up everything for love. He is satisfied only as he loves and finds love. To love is greater than to be loved. One cannot always have both. God does not. But every one may love. Every one does love. And only as there is love, pure and true--however overlaid with what is not so--only so is there life.
God is holy. That word seems to include purity and righteousness. There is utter absence of all that should not be. There is in Him all that should be, and that in fulness beyond our thinking. Man was made holy. There is in the Genesis picture of Eden a touch that for simplicity and yet for revealing the whole swing of moral action is most vivid. In the presence of conditions where man commonly, universally, the world around, and time through, has been and is most sensitive to suggestion of evil there is with this first man the utter absence of any thought of evil. In the light of after history there could be no subtler, stronger statement than this of his holiness, his purity, at this stage.
And in his capacity for holiness, in that intensest longing for purity, and loathing of all else, that comes as the Spirit of God is allowed sway, is revealed again the capacity for God-likeness. It is the prophetic dawn within of that coming Eden when again we shall see His face, and have the original likeness fully restored.
God is wise, all-wise. Among the finest passages of the' Christian's classic are those that represent God as personified wisdom. And here wisdom includes all knowledge and justice. That the Spirit of God breathed into man His own mental life is stated most keenly by the man who proverbially embodied in himself this quality of wisdom. "The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord searching out the innermost parts." The allusion is clearly to intellectual powers. There is in man the same quality of mental keenness that searches into things as is in God. It is often dulled, gripped by a sort of stupor, so overlaid you would hardly guess it was there. But, too, as we all know, it often shines out with a startling brilliance. It is less in degree than with God, but it is the same thing, a bit of God in man. This explains man's marvellous achievements in literature, in invention, in science, and in organization.
Two light master-strokes of the etching point in the Eden picture reveal the whole mental equipment of the man. The only sayings of Adam's preserved for us are when God brought to him the woman. She is the occasion for sayings that reveal the mental powers of this first man. Fittingly it is so. Woman, when true to herself, has ever been the occasion for bringing out the best in man. "And the man said, this time it is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; this shall be called woman, because out of man was this one taken. Therefore doth a man leave his father and his mother and cleave unto his wife, and they become one flesh." ... "And the man called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living." Here is revealed at a glance the keen mental powers at work. Here is the simplicity of statement that marks the speech of strong men. The whole forest is in a single acorn. The whole of a human life is in the primal cell. The chemist knows the whole body by looking into one drop of blood. Here is revealed in one glance the whole man. Mark the keen sense of fitness in the naming of woman--the last and highest creation. Adam was a philologist. His mind was analytical. Inferentially the same keen sense of fitness guided in all the names he had chosen. Here is recognition of the plan for the whole race, a simple unlabored foresight into its growth. A man's relation to his wife, his God-chosen friend, as being the closest of life, and above all others is recognized, together with the consequent obligation upon him. She comes first of all. She becomes the first of all his relationships. The man and the woman--one man and one woman--united, make the true unit of society. Any disturbance of that strikes at the very vitals of society.
And God is a Sovereign--the sovereign of the vast swing of worlds. Man likewise is a sovereign in the realm of nature, and over all the lower creation. He was given dominion, kingship, over all the earth-creation. Man is a king. He is of the blood royal. He was made to command, to administrate, to reign. He is the judge of last appeals on the bench of earth.
But there is more here. The chief characteristic of an absolute sovereign is the imperial power to choose, to decide. Man was made an absolute sovereign in his own will. God is the absolute sovereign. He has made man an absolute sovereign in one realm, that of his will, his power of choice. There is one place where man reigns alone, an absolute autocrat, where not even God can come save as the autocrat desires it, that is in his will. And if that "can" bother you, remember that it was God's sovereign act that made it so. So that God remains sovereign in making man a sovereign in the realm of his will. There every man sits in imperial solitude.
Here then is the picture of man fresh from the hand of God. A spirit, in a body, with an unending life, partly infinite, like God in his capacity for love, for holiness, and wisdom, with the gift of sovereignty over the lower creation, and in his own will. Like Him too in his capacity for fellowship with God. For only like can have fellowship with like. It is only in that in which we are alike that we can have fellowship. These two, God and man, walking side by side, working together, friendship in spirit; partnership in service.
This man is in a garden of trees and bushes, with fruit and flowers and singing birds, roses with no pricking thorns, soft green with no weeds, and no poison ivy, for there is no hate. And he is walking with God, talking familiarly as chosen friend with choicest friend. Together they work in the completion of creation. God brings His created beings one by one to man to be catalogued and named, and accepts his decisions. What a winsome picture. These two, God and a man in His likeness, walking and working side by side; likeness in being; friendship, fellowship in spirit; partnership, comradeship in service. And this is God's thought for man!
Man's Bad Break.
Then come the climax and the crisis. A climax is the climbing to the top rung of the ladder. A crisis is the meeting place of possible victory and possible disaster. A single step divides between the two--the precipice-height, and the canon's yawning gulf.
It was a climax of opportunity; and a crisis of action. God's climax of opportunity to man. Man's crisis of action. God made man sovereign in his power of choice. Now He would go the last step and give him the opportunity of using that power and so reaching the topmost levels. God led man to the hill of choice. The man must climb the hill if he would reach its top.
Only the use of power gives actual possession of the power. What we do not use we lose. The pressure of the foot is always necessary to a clear title. To him that hath possible power shall be given actual power through use.
This opportunity was the last love-touch of God in opening up the way into the fulness of His image. With His ideal for man God went to His limit in giving the power. He could give the power of choice. Man must use the power given. Only so could he own what had been given. God could open the door. Man must step over the door-sill. Action realizes power.
The tree of knowledge of good and evil was the tree of choice. Obedience to God was the one thing involved. That simply meant, as it always means, keeping in warm touch with God. All good absolutely is bound up in this--obeying God, keeping in warm touch. To obey Him is the very heart of good. All evil is included in disobeying Him. To disobey, to fail to obey is the seeded core of all evil.
Whichever way he chose he would exercise his God-like power of choice. Whichever way he chose, the knowledge would come. If he chose to obey he would know good by choosing it, and evil by rejecting it. He knew neither good nor evil, for he had not yet had the contact of choice. Knowledge comes only through experience. In choosing not to obey, choosing to disobey, he would know evil with a bitter intimacy by choosing it. He would become acquainted with the good which he had shoved ruthlessly away.
With the opportunity came the temptation: God's opportunity; Satan's temptation. Satan is ever on the heels of God. Two inclined planes lead out of every man's path. Two doors open into them side by side. God's door up, the tempter's door down, and only a door-jamb between. Here the split hoof can be seen sticking from under the cloak's edge at the very start. Satan hates the truth. He is afraid of it. Yet he sneaks around the sheltering corner of what he fears and hates. The sugar coating of his gall pills he steals from God. The devil bare-faced, standing only on his own feet, would be instantly booted out at first approach. And right well he knows it.
A cunning half lie opens the way to a full-fledged lie, but still coupled with a half-truth. The suggestion that God was harshly prohibiting something that was needful leads to the further suggestion that He was arbitrarily, selfishly holding back the highest thing, the very thing He was supposed to be giving, that is, likeness to Himself. Eve was getting a course in suggestion. This was the first lesson. The school seems to be in session still. The whole purpose is to slander God, to misrepresent Him. That has been Satan's favorite method ever since. God is not good. He makes cruel prohibitions. He keeps from us what we should have. It is passing strange how every one of us has had that dust in his eyes. Some of us might leave the "had" out of that sentence.
See how cunningly the truth and the lie are interwoven by this old past-master in the sooty art of lying. "Your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God knowing good and evil." It was true because by the use of this highest power of choice he would become like God, and through choosing he would know. It is cunningly implied with a sticky, slimy cunning that, by not eating, that likeness and knowledge would not come. That was the lie. The choice either way would bring both this element of likeness to God in the sovereign power of choice, and the knowledge.
Then came the choice. The step up was a step down: up into the use of his highest power; down by the use of that power. In that wherein he was most like God in power, man became most unlike God in character. First the woman chose: then the man. Satan subtly begins his attack upon the woman. Because she was the weaker? Certainly not. Because she was the stronger. Not the leader in action, but the stronger in influence. He is the leader in action: she in influence. The greater includes the less. Satan is a master strategist, bold in his cunning. If the citadel can be gotten, all is won. If he could get the woman he would get the man. She includes him. She who was included in him now includes him. The last has become first.
She was deceived. He was not deceived. The woman chose unwarily for the supposed good. The man chose with open eyes for the woman's sake. Could the word gallantry be used? Was it supposed friendship? He would not abandon her? Yet he proved not her friend that day, in stepping down to this new low level. Man's habit of giving smoothly spoken words to woman, while shying sharp-edged stones at her, should in all honesty be stopped. Man can throw no stones at woman. If the woman failed God that day, the man failed both God and the woman. If it be true that through her came the beginning of the world's sin, through her, too, be it gratefully and reverently remembered, came that which was far greater--the world's Saviour.
The choice was made. The act was done. Tremendous act! Bring your microscope and peer with awe into that single act. No fathoming line can sound its depth. No measuring rod its height nor breadth. No thought can pierce its intensity. That reaching arm went around a world. Millenniums in a moment. A million miles in a step. An ocean in a drop. Volumes in a word. A race in a woman. A hell of suffering in an act. The depths of woe in a glance. The first chapter of Romans in Genesis three, six. Sharpest pain in softest touch. God mistrusted--distrusted. Satan embraced. Sin's door open. Eden's gate shut.
Mark keenly the immediate result that came with that intense rapidity possible only to mental powers. At once they were both conscious of something that had not entered their thoughts before. To the pure all things are pure. To the imagination hurt by breaking away from God, the purest things can bring up suggestions directly opposite. Through the open door of disobedience came with lightning swiftness the suggestion of using a pure, holy function of the body in a way and for a purpose not intended. Making an end of that which was meant to be only a means to a highest end. Degrading to an animal pleasure that which held in its pure hallowed power the whole future of the race. There is absolutely no change save in the inner thought. But what a horrid heredity in that one flash of the imagination! Every sin lives first in the imagination. The imagination is sin's brooding and birth-place. An inner picture, a lingering glance, a wrong desire, an act--that is the story of every sin. The first step was disobedience. That opened the door. The first suggestion of wrong-doing that followed hot on the heels of that first step, through that open door, struck at the very vitals of the race--both its existence and its character. That first suggested unnatural action, with its whole brood, has become the commonest and slimiest sin of the race.
Here, in the beginning, the very thought shocked them. In that lay their safety. Shame is the recoil of God's image from the touch of sin. Shame is sin's first checkmate. It is man's vantage for a fresh pull up. There are only two places where there is no shame: where there is no sin; where sin is steeped deepest in. The extremes are always jostling elbows. Instantly the sense of shame suggested a help. A simple bit of clothing was provided. It was so adjusted as to help most. Clothing is man's badge of shame. The first clothing was not for the body, but for the mind. Not for protection, but for concealment, that so the mind might be helped to forget its evil suggestions. It is one of sin's odd perversions that draws attention by color and cut to the race's badge of shame. It would seem strongly suggestive of moral degeneracy, or of bad taste, or, let us say in charity, of a lapse of historical memory.
Mark the sad soliloquy of God: "Behold the man has become as one of us: He has exercised his power of choice." He tenderly refrains from saying, "and has chosen wrong! so pitiably wrong!" That was plain enough. He would not rub in the acid truth. He would not make the scar more hideous by pointing it out. "And now lest he put forth his hand and take of the tree of life." "Lest!" There is a further danger threatening. In his present condition he needs guarding for his own sake in the future. "Lest"--wrong choice limits future action. Sin narrows.
With man's act of sin came God's act of saving. Satan is ever on the heels of God to hurt man. But God is ever on the heels of Satan to cushion the hurt and save the man. It is a nip-and-tuck race with God a head and a heart in the lead. Something had to be done. Man had started sin in himself by his choice. The taint of disobedience, rebellion, had been breathed out into the air. He had gotten out of sorts with his surroundings. His presence would spoil his own heaven. The stain of his sin would have been upon his eternal life. The zero of selfishness would have been the atmosphere of his home. The touch of his unhallowed hand must be taken away for his own sake. That unhallowed touch has been upon every function and relationship of life outside those gates. Nothing has escaped the slimy contact.
Sin could not be allowed to stay there. Its presence stole heaven away from heaven. Yet sin had become a part of the man. The man and the wrong were interwoven. They were inseparable. Sin has such a tenacious, gluey, sticky touch! Each included the other. It could not be put out without his being put out. So man had to be driven out for his own sake to rid his home-spot of sin. The man was driven out that he might come back--changed. Love drove him out that later it might let him in. The tree of life was kept from him for a time that it might be kept for him for an eternity.
When he had changed his spirit, and changed sides in the fight with evil started that day, and gotten victory over the spirit now dominant within himself, those gates would swing again. When the stain of his choice would be taken out of his fibre it would be his right eagerly to retrace these forced steps, and the coming back would find more than had been left. Love has been busy planning the home-coming. The tree of life has been grown in his absence to a grove of trees. The life has become life more abundant.
Outside the Eden Gate.
The story of what took place outside that guarded gate makes clear the love, the wise farsighted love that showed the man the way out that day. To tell the story one must use a pen made of the iron that has entered his own soul, and though the pen be eased with ball point, it scratches and sticks in the paper for sheer reluctance. And only the tears of the heart will do for ink.
That was a costly meal. That first bite must have been a big one. Its taste is still in the mouth of the race. If that fruit were an apple it must have been a crab. There has been a bad case of indigestion ever since. If you think there were no crab-apples in Eden, then the touch of those thickening lips must have soured it in the eating--man's teeth are still on edge. The fruit became tough in the chewing. It's not digested yet. That Garden of Eden must have been on a hill, with lowlands below, and high hills above, and roads both ways. The man seems to have gotten into the lowland road, and after a bit, struck some marshes and swamps, with a good bit of thick gray fog.
The first result of the break with God was in the man himself. Man has two doors opening into himself from God--the eye and the ear. Through these God comes into the man and makes Himself known. Through these comes all man knows of God. Both have their hinges in the will, the heart. Man gave both doors a slam shut that day in Eden. Yet they went shut gradually. That was the God-side of their shutting. He quickly slipped in an air cushion so the shutting might be softened and delayed, and meanwhile His presence be appealing to the man.
Refusing to obey God was equal to hearing without being willing to listen. It was the same thing as looking with that reluctance that won't see, and then doesn't see. Hearing and seeing lie deeper than ears and eyes, down in the purpose, the will, the desire of the heart. Unwillingness dulls, and then deafens the ears. It blurs, and then blinds the eye. An earnest, loving purpose gives peculiar keenness to the ears, and opens the eye of the eye. Ears and eyes are very sensitive organs. If their messages be not faithfully attended to they sulk and pout and refuse to transmit messages. It is a remarkable fact that habitual inattention to a sound or sight makes one practically deaf or blind to it; and that close attention persisted in makes one's ears and eyes almost abnormally keen and quick. Love's ears and eyes are proverbially acute.
One may be so wholly absorbed in something that he absolutely does not see the thing on which his eyes are turned. He does not hear the sounds that are plainly coming to his ear because his thought, back of that his heart, is elsewhere. Hearing, seeing is with the heart back of ears and eyes. God is spoken of as silent. Yet His silence may be simply our deafness. The truth is He is speaking all the time, but we are so absorbed that we do not hear. He is ever looking into our faces with His great, tender, deep eyes, but we are so wrapped up in something else that the gaze out of our eyes is vacant to that Face, and with keenest disappointment, so often repeated, He gets no answering glance.
Let anybody in doubt about the strict accuracy of this do some experimenting on himself, either with outer things or regarding God. Let him obey the inner voice in some particular that may perhaps cut straight across some fixed habit, and then watch very quietly for the result. It will come with surprising sureness and quickness. And the reason why is simple. The man is simply moving back into his native air, and of course all the powers work better.
This truth about the nerves of the ears and eyes running down into the heart is constantly being sounded out in the old Book. A famous bit in Isaiah puts it very clearly, and becomes a sort of pivot passage of all others of this sort. That fine-grained, intense-spirited young Hebrew was caught in the temple one day by a sight of God. That wondrous sight held him with unyielding grip through all the after years. With the sight came the voice, and the message for the nation: "Tell these people--you are continually hearing, but you do not listen, nor take in what you hear. Your eyes are open, they look, but they do not see." Then the voice said, "Make their heart fat, and their ears heavy, and their eyes shut."
That is to say, by continually telling them what they will continually refuse to hear because it does not suit the habit of their lives, he would be setting in motion the action that would bring these results. The ears that won't hear by and by can't hear. The heart that will not love and obey gets into a state of fatty degeneration. The valves that refuse to move in loving obedience will get too heavy with fat to move at all. The fat clogs the hinges. There is the touch of a soft irony in the form of the message. As though Isaiah's talking would affect their ears, whereas it is their refusal to hear that stupefies the hearing organ. In faithfulness God insists on telling them the truth even though He knows that their refusal to do will make things worse. But then God is never held back from good by the possible bad that may work out of it.
When Jesus came, the Jews, to whom His messages to the world were directly spoken, were in almost the last stages of that sort of thing. So Jesus, with the fine faithfulness of love blending with the keenest tact, spoke in language veiled by parable to overcome the intense prejudice against plainly spoken truth. They were so set against what He had to tell that the only way to get anything into them at all was so to veil its form as to befool them into thinking it truer. Toward the close, His keenness, for which they were no match, joining with the growing keenness of their hate, made them see at once that the sharp edge of some of those last parables was turned toward themselves.
In explaining to His puzzled disciples about this form of teaching, with a sad irony that reveals both His heart's yearning and His mental keenness, He uses more than once with variations this famous bit from Isaiah. He makes the truth stand out more sharply by stating the opposite of what He desires, making the contrast between His words and His known desires so strong as not only to make plain the meaning intended, but to give it a sharper emphasis.
The result that began with ears and eyes quickly affected the tongue. That is nature's path. The inner road from ear and eye is straight to the tongue. The tongue is the index of man's whole being. While through ear and eye he receives all that ever gets in, through the tongue his whole being is revealed. Of course his personality reveals itself very much otherwise. In the carriage of the body. Strikingly so in the look of the eye. The body itself, especially the face, becomes in time the mould of the spirit within. Yet the tongue--what is said, how it is said, what is not said, the tone of voice--the tongue is the index of the spirit.
There is no stronger indication of mastery over one's powers than in control of the tongue. When God would break up man's first great ambitious scheme of a self-centred monopoly on the Shinar plains, He simply touched his tongue. The first evidence of God's touch in the re-making of man on that memorable Pentecost day was upon his tongue.
The effect upon his tongue of the break with God has been radical and strange. Dumbness, and slowness or thickness of speech alternate with an unnatural sharpness. Sometimes the spittle has a peculiar oiliness that results in a certain slipperiness of statement. Sometimes it has a bitter, poisonous, acid quality that eats its way into the words. There is a queer backward movement in biting sometimes. Withal a strange looseness of speech regarding the holiest things, and the most awesome truths, and the Holy One Himself.
The moment a man gets a vision of God he is instantly conscious of something the matter with his tongue. The sight that comes to his eyes, the sound to his ears makes him painfully self-conscious regarding the defect in his tongue. Moses found himself slow-tongued. Isaiah felt the need of the cleansing coal for his tongue.
But man's whole inner mental process was affected. A peculiar sense of fear, of dread, is woven inextricably into the very fibre of man's being. His first reported word after that break was, "I was afraid." That sense of fear--a horrid, haunting, nightmare thing--has affected all his thinking and planning and every-day speech. No phrase is oftener on man's tongue than "I'm afraid." Isaiah's classic utterance about ears and eyes has a counterpart equally classic from Paul's pen, about the effect of sin upon man's mental processes. A few lines in the letter to the Ephesian circle of churches give a sort of bill of details of the mental steps down that slope from the Eden gate.
Paul is urging these friends to live no longer as they, in common with all the races, had been living, in "the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their hearts; who, being past feeling, gave themselves up to lasciviousness to make a greedy trade of all uncleanness." Here are seven steps down. The first five are put in reverse order. Beginning where they have been, he traces the five steps back to the starting point, and then adds the two likely to follow with any who persist past this point.
The start of all sin is in the setting of one's self against God. Choosing some other way than His. It is called here "hardening of the heart." The native juices of the heart are drawn away from God and dry up. In this Book the heart is the seat of both affection and will. It is the pivotal organ of life. Any trouble there quickly and surely affects the whole being. Then follows "ignorance." Of course. The heart controls both ear and eye, the two great channels inward of knowledge. The hardening of the heart locks both doors. And hard on the heels of that comes "Alienated from the life of God." That is, cut off, shut out of fellowship and intimacy. Life is union with God. Through union God's life flows into us. Union is rooted in knowledge and in sympathy, fellow-feeling, a common desire and purpose. The man snapping that tying cord cuts himself off.
The next step is peculiarly pathetic--"darkened in their understanding." The man has shut the shutters close, and pulled the shades down tight. Of course it's dark inside. He is unable to see. First unwilling, now unable. If the only thing that can be gotten for use as light be darkness, how intense is that darkness! Then comes the pitiable result of acting as if darkness were man's native air--"the vanity of the mind." That word vanity means aimlessness. The mind is still keen, even brilliant, but the guiding star is shut out, and that keen mind goes whirring aimlessly around. Sometimes a very earnest aimlessness. The man's on a foggy sea without sun or star. The compass on board is useless.
But more pitiable and pathetic yet; indeed utterly laughable if it were not so terribly serious and pathetic:--this man in the dark proceeds gravely to decide that this darkness of his own making is a superior sort of light, and bows low in worship of its maker. He has even been known to write brilliant essays on the light-giving power of blinding darkness, with earnest protests at the evil of this thing commonly called light. Sometimes having carefully cottoned up the shutters that no scrap of sun light or sun warmth may get in, he strikes a friction match, and sits warming himself, and eloquently sets forth his own greatness as shown by the match, friction match. Most of this sort of light and heat is of the friction sort.
Then with reluctant hand, one who knows Paul's tender heart can well believe, the curtain is drawn aside for the last two stages; the grosser, gutter, animal stages, which, not always by any means, but all too commonly follow. "Past feeling!" The delicate sense of feeling about right and purity dulls and goes. The fine inner judgment blunts and leaves. The shrinking sensitiveness toward the dishonorable and impure loses its edge and departs. Then--pell mell, like a pack of dogs down a steep hill, follows the last--"lasciviousness," the purest, holiest things in the gutter-slime, and then, cold-blooded, greedy trading in these things. That's the picture painted in shadows of Rembrandt blackness, newly blackened, of the effect in man himself of turning away from God.
Now Jesus is the music of God's heart sounding in man's ears anew, that he may be wooed back the old road to the Eden life. Jesus is the face of God, close up, looking tenderly, yearningly, into man's face, that his eye may be caught and held, and his heart be enchained.