By S.D. Gordon
A Father-pleasing Life.
The second trait in His upward relation was this--He chose to live a Father-pleasing life. I use those words because He used them. I might say "consecrated" or "dedicated" or "surrendered" or other like words. And these are good words, but in common use we have largely lost their meaning. They are used unthinkingly for something less--much less--than they mean. Perhaps if we use the phrase He used we may be able to get back to the thing He meant, and did.
There are three possible lives open to every man's choice: a bad life, in which selfishness or passion or both, either refined or coarse, rule; a good, true, natural life; and a Father-pleasing life. By a good, true, natural life I mean, just now, a really Christian life in all that that means, but lived as if there were no emergency in the world to change one's habit of life.
You know an emergency coming into a man's life makes radical changes. You go to bed tonight and ordinarily will sleep out your eight hours in comfort and quiet. If a fire break out in the house, you are up in the middle of the night, hurrying around, only partly clad, carrying out valuables, or helping turn on water, or something of this sort. Your natural arrangements for the night are all broken up by the fire. An emergency may make radical changes in one's life for a little time, sometimes for the whole life. Financial reverses may change the whole habit of one's life.
Here's a man who has a well-assured, good-sized income from his business, or his inheritance, or both. He lives in a luxuriously appointed home, with many fine pictures and works of art and curios which it is enjoyable to have. He has a choice library including some fine costly old prints and editions, and enjoys adding rare books on subjects in which he is specially interested. He belongs to some literary and social and athletic clubs. He has an interesting family growing up around him whose education is being carefully looked after. He is an earnest Bible-loving Christian, faithful in church attendance and church duties, pure in life, and saintly in character. He gives liberally to church and benevolent objects, including foreign missions, which have become a part of the church system into which he fits. And he goes an even, contented round of life, home, church, club, recreation and so on, year in and out, holding and using the great bulk of his money for himself. I think of that as one illustration of the good, true, natural life.
Now, the Father-pleasing life is radically different in certain things. Ordinarily the two would be identical. The true natural life as originally planned for us would be the life pleasing to the Father. But something, not a part of God's plan, has broken into life, a terrible something, worse than a fire in the night, or a financial panic that sweeps away your all. Sin has wrought fearful havoc; it has made an awful emergency, and this emergency has affected the life and character of all the race, in a bad way, terribly, awfully, beyond words to tell, or imagination to depict. The whole earth is in the grip of a desperate moral emergency.
And naturally enough this emergency affects the life of any one concerned with this earth. It has affected God's life, and God's plans, tremendously. It has broken His heart with grief, and radically changed His plans for His own life. He has made a plan for winning His world away from its rebellion, its sin, back again to purity and close touch with Himself. That plan centred around His Son, and He spared not His own Son, but gave Him up.
And that emergency, and that plan of the Father's because of the emergency, have affected our Lord Jesus' life on the earth. The whole plan of His human life was radically revolutionized by it. The emergency, the Father's plan, gripped Him. He turned away from the true, good, natural life which it would have been proper for Him as a man to have lived, and He lived another sort of life. It was an emergency life, a life fitted to His Father's plan, and so the Father-pleasing life.
He became a homeless man, with all that that means. Would any man have enjoyed home-life with all the rare home-joys, the sweetest of all natural joys, so much as He? And then the larger circle of congenial friends, the enjoyment of music, of exquisite art, the reverent study of the great questions of life, of the wonders of nature whose powers it was given man to study and cultivate and develop,--it is surely no irreverence to think of Him both enjoying and gracing such a life, for such was the original plan of human life as thought out by a gracious Creator.
Instead, He had not where to lay His head, though so wearied with ceaseless toil. He fairly burned His life out those few years, early and late, ministering to the emergency-stricken crowds, healing their sick, feeding their hunger, raising their dead, comforting broken hearts, winning back sin-stained men and women, teaching the ignorant neglected multitudes, preaching the Father's yearning love, searching out the straying, ceaselessly travelling up and down, without leisure enough to sleep or to eat oftentimes, and all this despite the efforts of His kinsfolk to restrain His burning intensity.
This is what I mean by a Father-pleasing life. It was truly the consecrated life, consecrated to His Father's emergency plan for His world. It was the surrendered life, wholly given up to the one passionate plan of His Father's broken heart for His earth family.
Now, His "Follow Me" does not mean imitation. It does not mean a restless, aggressive hurrying here and there in meetings and Christian service. It means that there will be a getting so close that the sweet fever of His heart shall be caught by ours. The world-vision of His eyes shall flood ours. The passion of the Father's heart shall become the passion of our hearts. And we shall be controlled in all our lives, our holdings, our habits, by what He tells us. It does not mean that we will seek to be homeless as Jesus was, though it may possibly turn out to mean for some of us that we shall be homeless even as He.
But it means that we shall find out the Father's plan for our lives. And when it has become clear, we will set to music pitched in the joyous major our Lord's own words, "I do always the things that are pleasing to Him." And then we will set our lives to that joyous music with its rare undertone of the exquisite minor. It may mean Africa for you, or China for this other one. It may mean a plainer home at home, a simpler wardrobe, a more careful use of money. It may mean a new dominant note in your preaching, and all the personal influence of your life. It may possibly mean what will seem like yet more radical changes. It certainly will mean a deepening peace within, a closer touch of fellowship with the Lord Jesus, a wholly new conception of the meaning of prayer, and a radically new experience of the power of God in our own bodies and lives, and in our touch with others. It will mean that the music of His will and ours swinging rhythmically together in all things shall sweep our lives even as the strong wind the young saplings.
This was the second trait in our Lord Jesus' character upward, He lived the Father-pleasing life. To some it will seem like a further step--a fourth step--downward in His humility. And it was. The way up is down. The down slant is the beginning of the hilltop road. Going down is the way up; downward in the crowd's estimation; upward into closer touch of sympathetic life with God, and in reaching the true ideal of life.
The Obedient Life.
The third trait of our Lord Jesus' character upward, in relation with His Father, was that He lived the obedient life. This is really emphasizing what has just been said. But it is putting the emphasis on the daily habit of His life, rather than on the underneath motive. This was the daily spelling out of the first two traits. Obedience became the touchstone by which everything was tested.
The touchstone was not men's needs, deeply as that took hold of His heart, and shaped so much His life. It was not the thought of service, though never was a life so filled with eager glad service. The touchstone was not natural liking or choice, the proper instinctive reach out of His true human nature, though this would be strong in Him, the typical Son of Man. This would not be repressed as an unholy or wrong thing. It would only be given second place, or left out, as it might run across the grain of the great life-passion. With a fresh touch of awe it may truly be said: He did not come down to earth primarily to die, though He knew beforehand that this would stand out as the great one thing. The death was an item in the obedience. He came down to do His Father's will. The path of obedience led straight to the hill of the cross, and He trod that path regardless of where it led. Obedience was the one touchstone of His life. And it will be the one touchstone of His true follower's life. We shall run across this same vein of bright yellow gold, again and again, as we work on through this "Follow Me" mine. These were the three traits of our Lord Jesus' character upward, toward His Father. They were not different because of the emergency of sin He found in the world. They would have marked His life just as fully had there been no sin. But the presence of sin caused them to change radically the whole course of the life He actually lived.
Sinless by Choice.
Then there were two traits of character inward, in Himself. One was His purity. There was the absence of everything that should not be in Him. This is the negative side, though no part of His character called for more intense positiveness. Purity means sinlessness. He was sinless. But we must quickly remember what this means, or else there may seem to be no following for us, only a wistful gazing where we cannot go. It does not mean simply this, that through His peculiar birthright there was freedom from all taint of sin.
It means more than this. Sinlessness was a matter of choice with Him, and of choice insisted upon. And, be it said reverently, no man ever had a stiffer fight to keep true to his purpose than He. He was tempted in all points like as we are. He was tempted more than we. The tempter did his best and worst; he mustered all his cunning and driving power against this Lone Man. And the temptations were real. I am not concerned over the merely academical questions of the schoolmen here. The practical side is the intense side that takes all one's strength and thought. Practically, that our Lord Jesus was really tempted, means that He could have yielded had He so chosen. That He did not meant real struggle on His part. Not, of course, that He ever wanted to yield to what was wrong, but temptation was never so subtle, and doing the right never made so difficult as for Him. He suffered in being tempted. His sinlessness meant a decision, then many a time a moist brow, a clenched hand, and set jaw, a sore stress of spirit, and deep-breathed continual prayer whose intensity down in His heart could never be fully expressed at the lips. The temptation to fail to obey, simply not to obey, when obeying meant going through a sore experience was never brought so deftly, so subtly, so repeatedly and insistently to any as to Him. Resisting not only meant the decision, but the strength of resistance against terrific strength of repeated insistence.
How wondrously human this God-man was in His temptations, in His set refusals, and even more, how human in keeping free from sin. For sin is not human, letting sin in would have been a going down from the human level. This is the practical meaning of His sinlessness--choice, choice insisted upon, fighting, continual prayer, the Father's help, such as any man may have--not more.
This helps us to see how intensely practical His "Follow Me" becomes. It is not only that we will want to fight against the incoming of sin because we feel we ought to. But as we get close to Him and breathe in His spirit, there will come an inbred dislike, an intense inner loathing of sin, however refined it may be in its approach. There will be a continual coming for cleansing in the only fluid that can remove sin--His precious blood, and in the only flame that can burn it out--the fire of the Holy Spirit. There will be a hardening of the set purpose to be free of sin. We can be sinless in purpose. There can be a growing sinlessness in actual life. And yet all experience goes to show that the nearer we actually walk with God the more we shall be conscious of the need of cleansing, the more we will talk about our Lord Jesus, and the less and still less about our attainments.
The second inward trait in our Lord Jesus was the other side of this--His positive goodness. I mean the presence in Him of all that should be there. This is the exact reverse or complement of the purity. It is the other half that must go with that to make a perfect character. I like to use the word "holiness" in the sense of whole-ness. He had and developed a whole life. It was fully rounded out. There was nothing lacking that should be there, even as there was nothing present that should not have been there.
There is among us a good bit of negative goodness of character. We point with pride to what we don't do of that which is bad or not good. But this is a very one-sided sort of thing. Purity and goodness together--purity and holiness, wholeness--made the perfect, completed character of our Lord. And it was so wholly through His choice, His own action, with His Father's gracious help working through His choice. And the blessed contagion of the Leader's presence will make an intense longing within to follow Him here too.
Then there were two outward traits of character, that is in His relations with His fellow-men, of Nazareth, of Israel, and of all the race. He had sympathy with men; a rare, altogether exceptional sympathy. He felt with men in all their feelings and needs and circumstances. His fine spirit reached into men's inner spirit, and felt their hunger and pain and longings and joys, felt them even as they did, and the arms of His spirit went around them to help. And they felt it. They felt that He really understood and felt with them. And so sincere and brotherly was His fellow-feeling that they gladly welcomed it as from one really of themselves. To men, this Man, so lone in certain traits and experiences, was their brother, not only in His feeling with them, but in their feeling toward Him.
There's something peculiar in that word sympathy. It's a warm word. It has a soft cushion to it. It is a help word. There's something in it that makes you think of a warm strong hand helping, of a soft padding cushioning the sharp edges where they touch your flesh. It makes you think of a tender, fine spirit breathing in and through your own spirit, even as the soft south wind in the spring warms you, and the bracing mountain wind in the summer brings you new life.
Our Lord Jesus had this great trait of sympathy with His fellows. He could have it, for He had been through all their experiences. He knew the commonplace round of daily life so common to all the race. Nazareth taught Him that, through thirty of His thirty-three years,--ten-elevenths of His life. He knew temptation, cunning, subtle, stormy, persistent. He knew the inner longings of a nature awakening, and yet what it meant to be held down by outer circumstances. He knew the sharp test of waiting, long waiting. He knew hunger and bodily weariness, and the pinch of scanty funds. He was homeless at a time when a home would have been most grateful. He knew what it meant to have the life-plan broken, and something else, a bitter something else thrust in its place.
And he knew, too, the sweets of human life, of human love, of the helpfulness of others' sympathy, of the Father's pleased smile, of the Holy Spirit's indwelling, of the wondrous inner peace that follows obedience in hard places, of the joys of service, of the delight of being able to sympathize. His experience ran through the whole diapason of human feelings, and so He can find a key-note in every one of its tones for the sweet rich symphony of sympathy.
There is again an exception to be noted here. There could be no fellow-feeling in choosing wrong, or in yielding to the low or base or selfish. He is the Lone Man there. Does this make all the stronger His sympathy with us in our upper reach out of such things? Surely it does. The exception makes it stand out more sharply that our Lord Jesus felt our feelings. Wherever you are, however tight the corner, or narrow the road, or lonely the way, or keen the suffering, you can always stop and say: "He was here. He was here first, and most. He understands." As you kneel and look up, you can remember that there's a Man on the throne, a fellow-man, with a human heart like mine, and like yours. He understands. He feels. With utmost reverence let it be said, there's more of God since our Lord Jesus went back. Human experience has been taken up into the person of God.
And let me remind you again, that the "Follow Me" here will mean nothing less than fellowship in the sufferings of our fellows, fellowship to the point of radically affecting our lives. Sympathy will go deeper than a sense of pity for those less fortunate, and a giving to them a warm hand and a good lift up. The poor woman, living in a slum district, being visited by a mission visitor, spoke for the universal human heart when she said earnestly, "We don't want things; we want love." As we get up close to our Lord Jesus there will come the indwelling in us of the spirit that controlled Him. We will see through His eyes, we will feel with His heart, our hands will reach out to grasp other human hands with the impulse of His touch upon them. We shall know the exquisite pain of real sympathy with men in need, and the great joy of sharing and making lighter their load.
When You Don't Have To.
The second outward trait of our Lord Jesus' character was sacrifice. This is not something different from what has been said; it is only going a step further, indeed going the last step that He could go, in both His sympathy with men and His obedience to His Father. It helps to remember what sacrifice means; not suffering merely, though it includes suffering; not privation simply, though it may include this, too. There is much suffering and privation where there is no sacrifice. Sacrifice means doing something to help some one else when it takes some of your life-blood, and when you don't have to, except the have-to of love.
Sacrifice was so woven into the very fabric of Jesus' life that wherever you cut in some of the red threads stick out. It was the never-absent undertone of His life, from earliest years until the tragic close. But the undertone rose higher and grew stronger until at the last it became the dominant, the only tone to be heard. He gave His life out on the cross that so men might be saved from the terrible result of their sin, when He didn't have to, except the have-to of His great heart.
I have spoken of sacrifice as one of the two outward, manward traits of His character. But the truth is His Calvary sacrifice faced three ways: upward, inward and outward. It faced toward the Father, for it was carrying out the Father's plan, and that lets us see not only the Father's love, but His estimate, as the world's administrator of justice, of the horribleness of the sin which He was so freely forgiving. It faced in toward Himself, for it was the purity and perfection of the life poured out that gave the peculiar meaning to His death, and it was His sympathetic love that led Him up that steep hill. It faced outward, for the love of it was meant to break men's hearts and bend their stubborn wills, and so it did and has.
His sympathy--love suffering--came to have a new meaning as He went to the last extreme in His suffering. Sympathy is sometimes spoken of as putting yourself in the other's place so as to help him better. Our Lord Jesus did this. He did it as none other did, or could. He actually put Himself in our place on the cross. He experienced what would have come to us had He not taken our place. He suffered the suffering that belongs to us because of our sin. He felt the feelings that came through sin working out to its bitter end. Indeed He went beyond our own feelings here. For because He consented to suffer as a guilty sinner, we, who trust His precious blood, are spared that awful experience.
Calvary was sympathy to the extreme of sacrifice. But both words, "sympathy" and "sacrifice," get new depths of meaning at Calvary. This red shuttle thread of sacrifice will appear again and again in the fabric which His "Follow Me" weaves out for us. What a character He calls us to! What strength of friendship to insist on our coming up close to Himself! Is it possible? Surely not. He is so far beyond us. Yet there is a way, only one, the way of the dependent life, depending on Him to reproduce His own likeness in us. And our giving Him a free hand in doing it.
There is one word that could be used to cover all of this, if we only knew its full, rich, sweet meaning. That is the little understood, the much misunderstood, much belittled-in-use word, "love." All that has been said of the character of our Lord Jesus can be found inside that four-lettered word. Each trait spoken of is but a fresh spelling of love, some one side of it. Love planned the dependent life, and only love can live it truly. Love longs to please love, regardless of any sacrifice involved. Obedience is the active rhythm of love on the street of life. Purity is the inner heart of love; and the fully rounded character is the maturity of love. Sympathy is the heart of love beating in perfect rhythm with your own, and sacrifice is love giving its very life gladly out to save yours. Some day we shall know how much is meant by the sentence, "God is love."
A little child of a Christian home came one day to his mother, asking what it meant to "believe on the Lord Jesus." She thought a moment how to make the answer simple to the child, and then said, "It means thinking about Him, and loving Him." Sometime after, the little fellow was noticed sitting very quietly, apparently much absorbed in thought, and his mother said, "What are you doing, my son?" With child-like simplicity he said in a quiet tone, "I'm believing on the Lord Jesus." And a warm flush of feeling came to the mother's heart as she realized the practical tender meaning to her son, of the word "believing."
May we be great enough to be as little children while I adapt that mother's language here: Following our Lord Jesus is thinking about Him and loving Him. As we come to know the meaning of love we shall find that following is loving. The "Follow Me" life is the love life. But we must learn the meaning of love before that sentence will grip us.
The closer we follow Him the closer we will come to knowing what love is. The nearer we get to Him the nearer we get to its meaning. We will know it as we know Him. When we come into His presence, face to face, its simple full meaning will flash upon us with a great simple surprise.
Let us follow on to know it, that we may know Him. Let us live it and so we shall live Him. And in so living we shall know it and Him; we shall know love, and Jesus, and God.