By S.D. Gordon
Hungry for the Human Touch.
God hungers for the human touch. There's an inner hesitancy in saying this, and in hearing it. We feel it can hardly be so, even though our inner hearts would wish it were so.
We know that we men hunger for the human touch, the strongest of us. And in our hour of sore need we know that our inner hearts look up, and wish we could have a really close touch with God. Well, this is a bit of the image of God in us. We were made so, like Himself. In seeing ourselves here, we are getting a closer look at the heart of God. He longs for the human touch. When He made us He breathed into our nostrils the breath of His own life. And this is not simply a bit of the first Genesis chapter. It is a bit of every human life. There's the breath of God in every new life born into the world. He gives a bit of Himself. We are not complete creatively until part of Himself has come to be part of us.
And Jesus' coming was but the same thing put in yet more intense, close, appealing shape to us. He came to get us in touch again after the break of sin. He gave His blood that we might have life again after the sin-break had broken off our life, and commenced to dry it up. This was an even closer touch. The breath of God came in Eden to breathe in our lungs. The blood of His Son came on Calvary to give life-action to our hearts. Could there be anything to make clearer His hunger for the human touch?
The Holy Spirit's presence spells out the same thing once more. There has been every sort of thing to induce Him to go away. He has been ignored, left out of all reckoning, and talked against. Yet with a patience beyond what that word means to us, He has remained creatively in every man as the very breath of his life. And He comes and remains the very breath of the spirit life in those who yield to His pleading call.
Jesus was God coming after us. We had gone away. He came to woo us back into close touch again. He came to the nation of Israel, that through it He might reach out to all men. When He comes again it will be again to use Israel as His messenger, while He Himself will be present on the earth in a new way to woo men to Himself. When that nation's leaders rejected John's announcement, and so rejected our Lord Jesus, He began to appeal to individual men, while waiting for the nation. And the work with individuals was also His call to the nation.
So the chief thing He did was to call men. His presence was a call, and the crowds flocked to Him wherever He went. His life of purity and sympathy was felt as an earnest call and responded to eagerly. His doings were a very intense call. Every healed man and woman, every one set free of demon influence, every one of the fed multitudes, felt called to this man who had helped him so. His teaching was a continual call, and His preaching. But above all else stood out the personal call He gave men. For our Lord Jesus was not content to deal with the crowds simply; He dealt with men one by one in intimate heart touch.
Called to Go.
There are a number of invitations He used in calling men. It was as though in His eagerness He used every sort that might go home. And yet there was more than this; these invitations are like successive steps up into the life He wanted them to have. He said, "Come unto Me." This was always the first, and still remains first. It led, and it leads, into rest of heart and life, peace with God. He quickly followed it with "Come ye after Me." They must come to Him before they could come after Him. This was found to mean discipleship, learning the road. He would "make" them like Himself in going after others. He said, "take My yoke upon you."This meant a bending down to get into the yoke, a surrender of will and heart to Himself, and then partnership, fellowship side-by-side with Himself.
Then He spoke another word to the innermost circle, on the night in which He was betrayed. He had a long talk that evening with the eleven around the supper table, and walking down to the grove of olives at the Brook of the Cedars. Several times that evening He used this new word, "abide," "abide in Me." That means staying with Him, not leaving, living continuously with Him. It means a continued separation from anything that would separate from Him. And then it means a fulness of life coming from Himself into us as we draw all our life from Himself, a rich ripeness, a rounded maturity, a depth of life, and these always becoming more,--richer, rounder, deeper.
Then after the awful days of the cross were past, on the evening of the resurrection day, in the upper room with ten of the inner disciples, He practically said, "You be Myself"; "as the Father sent Me, even so send I you"; "You be I." I wonder if any one of us has ever been taken or mistaken for the Lord Jesus. We would never know it, of course. But He meant it to be so.
A Scottish lady missionary in India tells of a Bible class of girls which she had. She was teaching them about the life and character of the Lord Jesus. One day a new girl came in, fresh from the heathenism in which she grew up, knowing nothing of the Gospel. She listened, and then became quite intense and excited in her childish way, as she heard them talking about some One, how good He was, how gentle, how He was always teaching and helping the people around Him. At last she could restrain her eagerness no longer, but blurted out, "I know that man; he lives near us." It was found that she did not know about Christ, but supposed they were speaking of a very earnest native Christian man living in her neighbourhood. She had mistaken her neighbour for Jesus. How glad that man must have been if he ever knew. This was a part of our Lord's plan.
And at the very end, these successive invitations took the shape of a command, which was both a permission and an order,--"Go ye." Men who had taken to heart, one after another, these invitations were ready for the command. They would be eager for it. The invitations were the Master's preparation for the command. He could trust such men to go, and to keep steady and true as they went, in the power He gave them. There is one word that you find in all these invitations--"Me." They all centre about the Lord Jesus. He is the centre of gravity drawing every one, in ever growing nearness and meaning, to Himself. It is only when we have been drawn into closest touch with Him that we are qualified to "go" to others. It's only Himself in us, only as much of Himself as is in us, that will be helpful to any one else, or will make any one else willing to break with his old way. He is the only magnet to draw men away from the old life up to Himself.
But there's one other invitation which belongs in this list. It proves to be the greatest of them all, because you come to find it includes all these others. It's His "Follow Me." It seems at first glance to be the same as that "Come after Me." But it is the word He repeated again and again, under different circumstances, with added explanations, to the same men, until you feel that He meant it to stand out as the great invitation to His disciples. It seems to mean different things at different times. That is to say, it grew in its significance. It came to mean more than it had seemed to.
Peter is a good illustration here. The word really came to him five times, with a different, an added, meaning each time. His first following meant acquaintance. John the Herald had sent his disciples, John and Andrew, along after Jesus as He was walking one day on the Jordan river road. They followed Jesus to their first acquaintance in a two hours' talk, which quite satisfied their hearts as to who He was. John never forgot that first following. Every detail of it stands out in his memory when long years after he began to write his story of the Master. Andrew went at once to hunt up Peter, and brought him face-to-face with his newly found Friend and Master. That interview settled things for Peter. Andrew's following now included his. Following meant the beginning of the personal friendship which was to mean so much for both of them.
It was about a year after, that "Follow Me" had a new meaning to Peter and some others. The invitation was an illustrated one this time, illustrated by a living picture of just what it meant. It was one morning by the Lake of Galilee. Peter and his partners had had a poor night's fishing, and were out on shore washing their nets. The Master had come along, with a great crowd pressing in to get closer and hear better. There was danger of the crowd pushing the Master into the water. The Master borrowed Peter's boat for a pulpit. Peter sat facing the crowd while the Master talked to them.
Was that the first time the spell of a crowd began to get its subtle heart-hold on Peter as he looked into their hungry eyes? Who can withstand the great appeal of the crowd's eyes? Not our Lord, nor any that have caught His spirit. Then the great draught of fishes, after the fishless night, made Peter feel the Master's power. Fishes would make him feel it, being a fisherman, as nothing else would. The sense of Jesus' power, and with it a sense of purity--interesting how the power made him feel the purity--this brought him to his knees at our Lord's feet with the confession of his own sinfulness.
Peter was greatly moved that morning, greatly shaken. A new experience of tremendous power had come to him. And out of it came a new life, a radical change as he left the old occupation, fishing, boats, father, means of livelihood, and entered upon the new life. "Follow Me" meant a radical change of life, constant companionship with Jesus, sharing His life, going to school, getting ready for leadership and service; yes, and for suffering too. He entered the Master's itinerant training school that morning. A man needs a sight of the Lord Jesus' power, a feel of it, before he is fit to serve, or even to go to school to get ready for service.
It was some months after this that another meaning grew into the words "Follow Me," and grew out of them. The words are not spoken this time, but acted. Out of the group of disciples that He had gathered about Him our Lord prayerfully chose out Peter with the others to be sent out as His messenger to others.Part of the schooling was over; now a new part, a new term of school, was to begin. He gave them a special talk that morning, and sent them out to teach and heal and do for the crowds what He had been doing.
He called them Apostles, Sent-ones, Missionaries. "Follow Me" now meant going to others. It meant more--power, power to do for men all the Master Himself had done. First, power felt that early morning by the lake, now power given. That was a great advance in training. Power had to be felt before it could be given, and has to be felt before it can be used. Only as the power takes hold of our inner hearts to the feeling point, will it ever take hold of others. And no life is changed through our service till power takes hold of us to the feeling point.
The Deeper Meaning.
But there was a special session of the "Follow Me" school one day, a very serious session.They had to be shown the red threads in the weave of the word. The words had to be held under the knife, so they could look into the cut, and see the deeper meaning. "Follow Me" had to take deeper hold of them yet, if His power was to get the deeper hold of them, and, by and by, get hold of the needy crowds. The very setting of the words gives the new meaning to them. John had felt the keen edge of Herod's axe blade, and was now in the upper presence. They were up in the far northern part because of the growing danger threatening Him by the leaders.
It is the turning point where our Lord Jesus begins to tell them that He was to suffer. Their ears could not take in the words. Their dazed eyes show that they think they could not have heard aright,--He to suffer! What could this mean? They hadn't figured on this when they left the nets and boats to follow. There had been a rosy glamour filling impulsive Peter's self-confident sky. Now this black storm cloud! Then to Peter's foolhardy daring came words spoken with a new intense quietness that made the words quiver: "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and 'Follow Me.'"
This was startling to a terrific degree. Here was a new, strange, perplexing combination--"deny himself," and "cross," coupled with His "Follow Me." What could He mean? This was surely some of His intensely figurative language again, they think. Yes, it surely was; and it stood for a yet intenser experience. "Follow Me" means sacrifice. It means a going down as well as a going up. And it proves to mean that one can go up in power and service, only as far as he has gone down in the obedience that includes sacrifice. Did Peter take in the meaning that day? I think not. Actions speak louder than words.
That betrayal night a few short months after, when the actual cross was almost in actual sight, he "followed Him afar off." Without knowing it, that was as far as he had ever really followed thus far. He wanted to keep as "far off" from that cross as possible. He always had. He baulked at its first mention, baulked tremendously. Yet he "followed." Poor Peter! he was in a terrible strait betwixt two, this wondrous Master whom he really loved, and this threatening cross of nails and thongs and thorns. It was a stiff struggle between heart and flesh; between the longing of his love and the shrinking from pain and hardship and shame. And Peter's kinsfolk are still having the same struggle. A great many stop here. This is going too far! They prefer staying by the easier "Follow Me's," and forgetting this one. Yes, and go on living powerless lives, and engaging in powerless service, when the crowds were never so needy.
Peter didn't follow this time. The road was too rough. He stumbled and fell badly. Badly? Still no worse than many others. When he got up he was still facing the same way. You can always tell a man's mettle by the way he faces as he gets up after a bad fall.
Six months or so after there came another "Follow Me," to Peter. No, it wasn't another; it was the same one, the one he hadn't accepted. Peter was to have another opportunity at the same place where he fell so badly. How patient our Lord Jesus was--and is.
It was one morning just after breakfast--a rare breakfast--on the edge of the lake, after as poor a night's fishing as that other time. Again the touch of power revealed the Master's presence. Again Peter had a special word with the Master while the others are hauling in the fish. Now breakfast's over and the seven are grouped about the One, listening. The Lord's quiet skilled hand touches the heart meaning of "Follow Me." Its real meaning is a love meaning. Do you love? Then "Follow Me." Then you must follow, your love draws you after, even though the path be rough and broken. This is the same "Follow Me" that Peter baulked at so badly months before. Its meaning had not changed. It would mean a death, Peter is plainly told. But now Peter baulks no longer. The Master's great love had taught Him how really to love. And now not even a cross for himself would or could keep him from following close up to such a Master.
Here is the meaning of "Follow Me" as it worked out in Peter's experience--acquaintance, a new life, schooling, service, a sight of sacrifice, and a baulking, then--a sight of Jesus on the cross, and then a willingness to go on even though it meant the sorest sacrifice. This is an etching of the road Peter actually went, an etching in black and white, with the black very black. Is it a picture of your road? But perhaps you have never filled out the last part--still back at that baulking place. In the thick of our present life, in the noise and din of the street of modern life, comes as of old the quiet, clear, insistent call "Follow Me."
Getting in Behind.
But, some one says, how can we really follow this Lone Man, our Lord Jesus Christ? He was so pure in His life, stainless in motive, and unstained in character. And we--well, the nearer we get to Him the more instinctively we find Peter's lakeshore cry starting up within, "I am a sinful man." His very presence makes us feel the sin, the sin-instinct, the old selfish something within. How can we really follow? And the answer that comes is a real answer. It answers the inner heart-cry.
It is this: we begin where He ended. The cross was the end of His life. It must be the beginning of ours. It was the climax of His obedience. All the lines of His life come together at the cross. It is the beginning for us. All the lines of our lives, the lines of purity, of character, of service, of power, run back to the one starting point. And we come to find--some of us pretty slowly--that it is only the lines that do start there that lead to anything worth while. The starting point for the true life, and for real service is very clear. And if any of us have made a false start, it will be a tremendous saving to drop things and go back and get the true start. "The blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth from all sin"--this is the only point from which to start the "Follow Me" life. "Follow Me" does not mean imitation. It means reincarnation. It's some One coming to re-live His life in us. He died that His life might be loosed out to be relived in us.
I have already spoken of this as being a call to friendship. All the rest that comes is meant to be what naturally grows out of this friendship. Peter never forgot his last "Follow Me" call. "Lovest thou Me?" Then thou mayest follow. This greatly sweetens all the rest. It's all for Him!--our friend. Out of this personal relation comes service, power in service, suffering because of opposition to Him whom we serve, and joy because we may suffer on His account.
Matthew became His friend that day down at the little customs-shed at the Capernaum water edge. And out of that friendship grew our first gospel. John lived very close, and out of his intimacy came the gospel that reveals to us most the inner heart of our Lord, and His own intimacy of relation with the Father. And out of that friendship came, too, not only John's wonderful little "abiding" epistle, but the Revelation book, which gives us an inkling of the coming in of the Kingdom time that lies so near to our Lord's heart. Out of such intimacy of touch grew Stephen's ringing address before the Jewish council, and--his stormy, stony exit, out and up into his Master's presence.
And time would fail me to tell of those in every corner of the earth, and every generation since our Lord was here, who have served and suffered because they loved Him and followed. Hidden away in the rocks and caves of France from the fires of persecution, the Huguenots sang their favourite hymn:
"I have a friend so precious,
So very dear to me,
He loves me with such tender love,
He loves so faithfully.
I could not live apart from Him,
I love to feel Him nigh,
And so we dwell together,
My Lord and I."
When I was in China a year ago, my heart caught some of the distant echoes of that sort of singing, by Chinese Christians, in the midst of the fiery persecutions of the Boxer time. And I heard the same sad, glad undertone last year out in Corea, in the homes we visited, whose loved ones were behind prison bars for their Friend's sake.
One of the latest chapters of this friendship's outcome is only just closed in the story of that quiet, young friend of the Lord Jesus, William Whiting Borden, who sat down a little while ago, and so placed the wealth left him that the world might learn of his Friend, and then went out and laid down his life in Egypt in this same passion of friendship. So the earth's sod in every corner has known the fertilizing of such friendship blood, and shall some day know a wondrous harvest under our great Friend's own gleaning.
And this is why He asks us to follow. He needs our help. Our Lord Jesus gave His precious life blood to redeem the world, to set it free from its sin-slavery. But there are two parts to that redemption, His and ours. These two parts are strikingly brought out by a single word in the beginning of the book of Acts, the word "began." Luke says that what he has been writing in his Gospel of the life and death of Jesus was only a beginning. This was what "He began both to do and to teach." It is usually explained that what our Lord Jesus began in the Gospels, the Holy Spirit continued to do in the Acts, and to teach in the Epistles. And this is no doubt true. But there is still more here. The Holy Spirit continued and continues through men what He began through Jesus. There is a second part to the work of redemption, our part, the Holy Spirit working through us. There had to be a first part; that was the great part. There could be no second without a first. That first part was done when our Lord Jesus was hurt to death for us. That is the great first part. Yet in doing that He had but begun something. He touched Palestine. We are to cover the earth. He touched one nation; we are to go to all nations. We are to continue what He began. The work of redemption was finished on the cross so far as He was concerned; but not yet finished so far as its being taken to "all the world" was concerned. He needs us. This is why He asks us to follow. He needs our co-operation.
The second great factor in carrying out what He began is--how shall I put it? Shall I say, men and the Holy Spirit? You say, "No, change that, say the Holy Spirit and men. Put the Spirit first." Well, the order of these two depends on where you are standing. If you are standing at the Father's right hand, you say "the Holy Spirit and men." For the power is all in the Holy Spirit. He is the power. There can be nothing done without Him. Whatever is done in which He is not dominant amounts to nothing. How I wish we men might have that tremendous fact grip us in these days when the whole emphasis is on organization.
But, very reverently let me say this, and I say it thus plainly that we may know how much our Lord Jesus is depending on us, how really He needs us,--this, that since we are on the earth, in the place of human action, where the fighting is to be done, it is accurate to say with utmost reverence, "men and the Holy Spirit." For mark keenly, the initiative is in human hands. God's action has always waited on human action. The power is only in the Holy Spirit. The most astute and strong leadership amounts to nothing without Him flooding it with His presence. But the power needs a channel. The Spirit needs men strongly pliant to His will. The great world-plan waits, and always has waited, for willing men. And so our great Friend asks us to follow because He really needs us in His plan.
Have you ever noticed the picture in the word "follow"? You remember that the earliest language was picture language. And it is a great help sometimes to dig down under a word and get the picture. Here, it is a man standing on a roadway, earnestly beckoning, and pointing to the road he is in. The Old Testament word means literally "same road." The very word the Master Himself used means "in behind."
To-night this wondrous Lord Jesus stands just ahead. His face still shows where the thorns cut and the thongs tore. But there is a marvellous tenderness and pleading in those great patient eyes. His hand is reached out beckoning, and you cannot miss the hole in the palm of it. The hand points to the road He trod for us. And His voice calls pleadingly, "Take this same road; get in behind. I need your help with My world."
And yet--and yet----. Do you remember one time our Lord turned to the crowds that were following and told them it would be better to count up the cost before deciding to be His disciples? He feared if they didn't there would be "mocking" by outsiders because His followers' lives didn't square with their profession. His fear seems to have been well founded. There seems to be quite a bit of that sort of mocking. It's better to count the cost, to know what following really means. A Salvation Army officer in Calcutta tells about a young handsome Hindu of an aristocratic family. One day he came in, drew out a New Testament, and asked the meaning of the words, "sell whatsoever thou hast," in the story of the rich young ruler. The Salvationist told him it meant that if a man's possessions stood in the way of his becoming a Christian he must be willing, if need be, to dispose of them for the needy. To his surprise the young man quietly said, "I fear you don't understand."
"Do you want to be a Christian?"
"Yes, but I'm not willing to sell all that I possess."
After a little more talk the young Indian left. Sometime after he appeared at one of the Salvation Army meetings, and when the opportunity was given for those who would accept Christ to kneel at the altar, at once he started forward. But instantly a storm broke out in the crowded meeting. A group of men rushed forward, shouting angrily, seized the young man and bore him bodily out while the crowd watched in terror. A few weeks later the young man turned up again, asking to be taken in and quietly saying, "I have begun to sell all."
Then his story came out. A Bible had come into his hands; the character and call of the Lord Jesus made a great appeal to him. He was haunted by the words, "sell whatsoever thou hast." He felt he knew what it meant for him. His family heard of his interest in Christianity. They belonged to the highest class, were wealthy and officially connected with the heathen temple-worship. They did their best to dissuade him, then finding that useless, they kept watch, and had him forcibly taken from the meeting where he was about to openly confess Christ. The entreaties of his father and mother shook him greatly but failed to change his decision. He had been imprisoned, chained hand and foot, and scantily fed, but all to no purpose. Then he managed to escape and came to the one Christian place he knew, the Salvation Army, and asked to be taken in.
After about two weeks he disappeared as abruptly as he came. Then one day he came back, and told his Salvation friend that he had been carried to Benares, their holy city, and forced to bathe in the Ganges. "But," he said, "as I stood in the water of the Ganges, I said, 'Lord Jesus, wash me in Thy precious blood,' and when I was forced to bow to idols, I bowed my soul to the eternal Father and said, 'Thou art God alone.'" His mother had implored him on her knees not to disgrace them; his tutor, whom he loved dearly, and his brothers had joined the father in their plea not to bring such shame on the family. "Well," the Salvationist said, "now, you know the meaning of 'sell whatsoever thou hast'" "Not yet," he said, "but I have sold nearly all."
Again he came back and said quietly, "I have sold all." He appeared deeply grief-stricken, and yet there was a light shining in his eye. In answer to questions he said, "I have not only ceased to be a Brahmin, I have ceased to be a human being. I am not only an outcast, I am dead. I have neither father, mother, brothers, nor sisters. I have been burned in effigy, and the ashes buried. It was not the effigy they burned; it was I. My father would not recognize me now if he met me on the street, nor would my mother. I am dead. I have been buried. It is the end. I have sold all." He had counted the cost. Then though it meant so much, he followed. The rich young Jew to whom the words were first spoken, saw things bigger than Jesus; the rich young Hindu saw Jesus bigger. Each held to what he prized most, and let the other go. Would it not be better if we were to count the cost, and then deliberately decide? and if it be to follow, then follow all the way? I want to talk a little later about what it means to follow. I hope this will help us a little in our calculations, in counting the cost before starting in to follow fully.
And yet, and yet, may the vision of the Lone Man in the road, beckoning, flood our eyes while we count the cost, even as with the young Hindu.