By S.D. Gordon
The Anvil of Experience.
Experience is going through a thing yourself, and having it go through you. And "through" here means not as a spear is thrust through a man's body, piercing it, but as fire goes through that which it takes hold of, permeating; as an odor goes through a house, pervading it.
A man knows only what he experiences; what he goes through; what goes through him. He knows only what he is certain of. And he is certain of only that which he experiences.
It is one of the natural limitations of our humanity that it is so. Even the primary knowledge of space, and time, and so on comes in this way. A man knows space only by seeing or thinking through space. He knows time only by living consciously through some moments of time. Such knowledge is primary only in point of time.
Experience is weaving fact into the fabric of your life. The swift drive of the double-pointed shuttle, the hard push of the loom back and forth goes through you.
Experience is sowing truth in actual personal occurrences. The cutting, upturning edge of the plow, the tearing teeth of the harrow, go on inside your very being, while perhaps the moments drag themselves by, slow as snails.
Experience is hammering truth into shape upon the anvil of your life, while the pounding of the lightning trip-hammer is upon your own quivering flesh. It is seeing that which is most precious to you, so dear as to be your very life, seeing that in a furnace, seven times heated, while you, standing helplessly by, hope and trust perhaps, and yet wonder, even while trusting, wonder if--(shall I say it the way your heart talks it out within?), or, at most, wonderingly watch with heart almost stopped, and eyes big, to see if the form of the Fourth will intervene in your case, or whether something else is the Father's will.
Experience is the three young Hebrews stepping with quiet, full, heel-to-toe tread into the hotly flaming furnace, not sure but it meant torture and death, only sure that it was the only right thing to do. It is the old Babylonian premier actually lowering nearer and nearer to those green eyes, and yawning jaws, and ivories polished on many a bone, clear of duty though not clear of anything else.
A man having a financial understanding with his church, or a contract with his employer, or a comfortable business, may be an earnest Christian, living a life of prayer and realizing God's power in his life, but he cannot know the meaning of the word trust as George Mueller knew it when he might waken in the morning with not enough food in hand for the breakfast, only an hour off, of the two thousand orphans under his care, and in answer to his waiting prayer have them all satisfied at the usual breakfast hour. George Mueller himself did not know the meaning of "trust" before such experiences as he did afterwards. No one can. We know only what we experience.
Now Jesus became a perfect man by means of the experiences He went through. He is an older Brother to us, for He has gone through ahead where we are now going, and where we are yet to go. He was perfectly human in this, that He did not know our human experiences, save as He Himself went through those experiences. With full reverence be it said of the divine Jesus, it was necessarily so, because He was so truly human.
The whole diapason of human experience, with its joyous majors and its sobbing minors, He knew. Except, of course, the experiences growing out of sin. These He could not know. They belong to the abnormal side of life. And there was nothing abnormal about Him. It was fitting that Jesus, coming as a man to save brother men, should develop the full human character through experience. And so He did. And forever He has a fellow-feeling with each of us, at every point, for He Himself has felt our feelings.
Jesus' experiences brought Him suffering; keen, cutting pain; real suffering. Where there is possible danger or pain in an approaching experience there is shrinking. It is a normal human trait to shrink from pain and danger. Jesus' experiences in the suffering they brought to Him far outreach what any other human has known. He shrank in spirit over and over again as the expected experiences approached. He shrank back as none other ever has, for He was more keenly alive to the suffering involved. He suffered doubly: in the shrinking beforehand; in the actual experience.
But, be it keenly remembered, shrinking does not mean faltering. Neither suffering in anticipation nor actually ever held Him back for a moment, nor an inch's length, nor in the spirit of full-tilted obedience to His Father's plan. This makes Jesus' experiences the greatest revealers of His character. He was sublime in His character, His teachings, His stupendous conceptions. He was most sublime in that wherein He touches us most closely--His experiences.
With a new, deep meaning it can be said, knowledge is power. We humans enter into knowledge and so into power only through experience. Experiences are sent, or when not directly sent are allowed to come, that through these may come knowledge, through knowledge power, through both the likeness of God, and so, true service in helping men back to God.
Let us, you and I, go through our experiences graciously, not grudgingly, not balking, cheerily, aye, with a bit of joy in the voice and a gleam of light in the eye. And remember, and not forget, that alongside is One who knows the experience that just now is ours, and, knowing, sympathizes.
There were with Jesus the commoner experiences and the great outstanding ones: the mountain range with the foot-hills below and the towering peaks above. From His earliest consciousness until the cross was reached, Jesus ran the whole gamut of human experiences common to us all, with some greater ones, which are the same as come to all men, but with Him intensified clear beyond our measurements.
These greater experiences were tragic until the great tragedy was past. Each has in it the shadow of the greatest. The Jordan waters meant turning from a kingdom down another path to a cross. The Wilderness fight pointed clearly to successive struggles, and the greatest. The Transfiguration mount meant turning from the greatest glory of His divinity which any earthly eye had seen to the little hill of death, which was to loom above the mount. Gethsemane is Calvary in anticipation. Calvary was the tragedy when love yielded to hate and, yielding, conquered. There love held hate's climax, death, by the throat, extracted the sting, drew the fang tooth, and drained the poison sac underneath. Love's surgery.
And the tinge of the tragedy remains in the Resurrection and Ascension in lingering scars. They are still in that face. It is a scale ascending from the first. In each is seen the one thing from a different angle. The cross in advance is in each experience, growing in intensity till itself is reached, and casting its shadow as it is left behind.
Through the crowds at the Jordan River, there quietly walked one morning a Man who came up to where John stood. He took a place in the line of those waiting to be baptized, so indicating His own intention. John is absorbed in his work, but as he faces this Man, next in order, he is startled. This is no ordinary man. That face! Its wondrous purity! That intangible something revealing the man! That spirit looking through those eyes into his own! In that presence he feels his own impurity. It is the instant unpremeditated recognition by this fine-grained Spirit-taught John of his Master, his Chief. The remonstrance that instinctively springs to his lips is held in check by the obedience he at once feels is due this One. Whatever He commands is right, however unexpected it may be, or however strange it may seem.
Why did Jesus go to John for baptism? The rite was a purifying one. It meant confession of sin, need of cleansing, a desire for cleansing, a purpose to turn from wrong and sin and lead a new life. How could Jesus accept such a rite for Himself? Why did He? Read in the light of the whole story of Jesus the answer seems simple. Jesus was stepping down into the ranks of man as His Brother. The kingdom He was to establish among men was to be set up and ruled over by man's Brother. The salvation was to be by One, close up, alongside. The King will brush elbows with His subjects, for they are brothers too. No long-range work for Jesus, but personal touch.
In accepting John's baptism, Jesus was allying Himself with the race of men He had come to lead up, and out, as King. He was allying Himself with them where they were. It was not the path always trodden by man in climbing to a throne. But it was the true path of fellowship with them in their needs. He was getting hold of hands, that He might be their leader up to the highlands of a new life. He steps to their level. He would lift from below. He would get by the side of the man lowest down. It was clear evidence at the start that He was the true Messiah, the King. He was their Brother. He would get down alongside, and pull up with them side by side out of the ditch of sticky mud up to good footing.
And mark keenly--and the heart glows a bit at the thought--the point He chooses for getting into that contact with His brothers. It is the point where they are turning from sin. John's baptism meant turning from sin. It is at that point that Jesus comes forward. A man can always be live-sure of Jesus meeting him there, close up, with outstretched hand. He is waiting eagerly, and steps up quickly to a man's side as in his heart he turns from sin.
But there's more yet. Read in the after light cast upon it there is much more. This was the voluntary path away from the kingdom. It was the beginning of all that came after. The road up the hill of the cross not far away led out of those waters. This was the starting point. Jesus calmly turned His face for the time being--a long time it has proved--away from the promised Kingdom of His Father and toward the planned cross of Satan.
It meant much, for it was the first step into the path marked out. What the Father had chosen for Him, He now chooses out for Himself. So every bit of service, every plan, must be twice chosen: by God for a man; by the man for himself as from God. He entered eagerly, for this was His Father's plan. That itself was enough for Jesus. But, too, it was the path where His needy brothers were. That would quicken His pace. It was the road wherein He would meet the enemy. And with a fresh prayer in His heart and a quiet confidence in His eye He steps into the road with that calmness that strong purpose gives.
As it proved there was danger here for Him. This was not the way approved by man's established ideals for starting a kingdom. He was driving straight across the carefully marked out roads of man's usage. He was disregarding the "No trespassing" signs. There was danger here. A man cutting a new path right across old ones meets stubborn undergrowth, and ugly thorn hedges. Jesus struck the thorns early, and right along to the last getting sharper. And they tore His face badly, as He cut the way through for His brothers.
Yes, there were dangers as He pushed His way through the undergrowth down to the water. Poison ivy thick, and fanged snakes darting guiltily aside from fear even while wanting to strike in, tangled, gnarly roots hugging the ground close, and bad odors and gases, and the light obscured--dangers thick! And these Jordan waters prove chill and roily. His stepping in stirs the mud. The storm winds sweep down the valley. A bit of a hill up above to the west casts a long sinister shadow out over the water.
And He must have known the dangers. No need of supernatural knowledge here. His familiarity with David and Jeremiah and other Hebrew writers, His knowledge of human nature as it had grown to be, His knowledge of a foe subtler than human, the fine sensitiveness of His finely organized sensitive spirit--these would lead Him to scent the danger.
But He falters not. The calmness of His will gives steadiness to His step down the river's bank. Aye, the dangers lured Him on. He had a keen scent for danger, for it was danger to His race of men, whose King He was in right and would prove Himself in fact. He would draw the thorn points by His own flesh that men might be saved their stinging prod and slash. He would neutralize the burning acid poison of the undergrowth by the red alkaline from His own veins. He would use the thorns to draw the healing salve for the wounds they had caused. He would put His firm foot on the serpent's head that His brothers might safely come along after. This was the meaning of His plunge into the swift waters by John's side.
The intense significance of this decisive step by Jesus is brought out strikingly by what follows. What followed is God's comment upon it. Quick as the act was done came the Father's approval. John's crowds were not the only intent lookers-on that day. Jesus stands praying. Since He is going this road it must be a-knee. Then the rift in the upper blue, the Holy Spirit straight from the Father's presence comes upon the waiting Man and the voice of pleased approval. And the heart of Jesus thrilled with the sound of that approving voice. He could go any length, down any steep, if He might only ever hear that voice in approval. Then the Holy Spirit took possession of Him for the earth-mission. In the pathway of obedience down that rough steep came the coveted power of God upon Him.
Three times in His life the Father's voice came, and each time at a crisis. Now at the plunge into the Jordan waters, which meant brotherhood with the race, and meant, too, a frostier chill of other waters later on. At the opening of the Greek door through which led an easy path to a great following, and away from a cross, when Jesus, with an agony intensified by the intensified nearing of those crossed logs, turned His step yet more steadily in the path He had chosen that first Jordan day. And between these two, on the mountain top, when the whole fabric of the future beyond the cross hung upon three poor wobbling, spiritually stupid, mentally untrained Galilean fishermen.
This is the meaning of that step into the Jordan. It was the decisive start.