By S.D. Gordon
The Lord Jesus never tried to make things look easier than they are. He wanted you to see the road just as it is, and asked you to look at it carefully. He knew this was the only right way to do. He knew that so the sinews would be grown in character that would stand the tests coming, and only so.
It was never His plan to increase the numbers by cutting down the doorsills so men could get in more easily. That was a later arrangement. He was never concerned for numbers, but for right and truth. A man walking alone down the middle of the one true path was more to Him, immensely more, than a great crowd wabbling along on the edge, half out, half in, neither in nor out, and so really out but not knowing it. If they were really out and knew it, it would be better, for they could see more distinctly the path they were not in, its straightness and attractiveness.
This sort of thing grew more marked with our Lord Jesus as the end drew on, the tragic end. The crowds thickened about Him those last months. They liked good bread, and plenty of it, and healed bodies, pain gone. And He liked to give them these. He helped just as far as they would let Him. But He wanted to give them more. He knew this other was only temporary. He was more concerned about healing the spirit of its disease, and giving the more abundant life. And full well He knew that only the knife could help many. And the knife had to be freshly sharpened, and used with strong decisive hand, if healing and life were to come.
And men haven't changed, nor the diseases that hurt their life, nor the Master, nor the tender love of His heart. But there's more than knife; there's fulness of life following. He would have us get the life even though it means the knife. Most times--every time, shall I say?--the life comes only through the knife. Yet when the life has come, with its great tireless strength, and its deep breathing, and sheer delight of living, you are grateful for the knife that led the way to such life.
One day our Lord entered a vigorous protest against the wrong sort of salt, saltless salt, the sort that seemed to be salt, and you used it and depended on it, and then found how unsalty it was, for the thing you depended on it to preserve, had gone bad. The great need is for salty salt. There still seems to be a great lot of this saltless salt in use. It's labelled salt, and so it's used as salt, but it befools you. The saltiness has been lost out, and the man using it wakes up to find out how great is the loss, loss of what he thought he had salted, and loss of time, character and time, the character of that salted with saltless salt, and the time spent.
It would be an immense clearing of the religious situation to-day on both sides of the Atlantic, if the saltless salt could be got rid of, either by removing the unsaltiness in it--though that seems a hopeless task, it's so unsalty, and there is so much of it, and such a large proportion of it, and it's so well content with being just as unsalty as it is. Or, the only other thing is put very simply and vigorously by the Lord in a short intense sentence, "Cast it out." Out with it. And lots of it is out so far as preservative usefulness is concerned.
And yet with wondrous patience He puts up with a great deal of salt that seems to have nearly reached the utterly saltless stage, hoping to get rid of the unsaltiness, and then to give it a new saltiness. For, be it keenly marked, when the saltiness has quite gone out of the salt, when the preservative quality has quite gone out from that body of people which He has placed in the world as its moral preservative,--then look out. Aye, "look up," for that's the only direction from which any help can relieve the desperateness of the situation. And "lift up your heads," for then comes a new preservative to the rotting earth-life. But some of us will smell the smell of the decay before the new salt begins to work.
The Thing in Us That Wants Things.
It was along toward that tragic end, when the tension was tightening up to the snapping point, the bitter hatred of the leaders yet more bitter, the crowds yet denser, the terms of discipleship yet more plainly put with loving, faithful plainness, that a characteristic incident happened. A young man of gentle blood and breeding, and influential position, came eagerly, courteously elbowing his way through the crowd that gathered thick about. Our Lord had just risen from where He had been sitting teaching, when this young man, in his eagerness, came running to Him. With deep reverence of spirit he knelt down in the road, and began asking about the true life, the secret of living it. Our Lord begins talking about being true in all his dealings with his fellow-men. The young man earnestly assured Him that he had paid great attention to this, and felt that there was nothing lacking in him on this score. The utter sincerity and earnestness of his spirit was so clear that the Master's love was drawn out to him. And He showed His love in a way characteristic of Him in dealing with those who want to go to the whole length of the true road. That is, He talked very plainly to him. There were four things to do beforehand, He said, four starting steps into this life he was so eager to enter. Four words tell the four steps: "go," "sell," "give," and "come."
"Go" meant the decisive starting in on this way; "sell" meant putting everything into the Father's hand for His disposal as He alone might choose. "Give" meant using everything, everything you are, and have, and can influence, as He bids you. "Come" meant this new man, this decisive, emptied, now trusted man, trusted as a trustee, coming into a new personal relation with the Lord Jesus.
The first three things were important because they revealed the man. But the thing was that the man, this new-emptied and now God-trusted man, should come into personal touch with the Lord Jesus. The things he had and held on to came in between. When they no longer came in to separate, then, and only then, was he ready to get "in behind" and "follow" along the "same road." For this is the friendship road. Only friends are allowed here, inner friends, those who come in by that gateway. There must be the personal touch. Things that stand in the way of that must be straightened out.
It was rather a startling answer. The young man was startled tremendously. The way to come in is first to go out. The way to get is first to give. The way to buy what you want is to sell what you have. That is to say, the way for this young man to get what he was so eager for was to get rid of what he already had. And yet it wasn't getting rid of the things the Master was thinking about, but getting rid of the thing in him that wanted the things, getting rid of their hold upon him. Our Lord Jesus wanted, and wants, free men, emptied men. He wants the strength in the man that the emptying and selling process gives. This is the laboratory where the unsaltiness is being burned out, and the new salty saltiness being generated, put in.
This young fellow couldn't stand the test. So many can't. No, I'm getting the words wrong. He wouldn't stand it; so many won't. The slavery of things was too much. The thing in him that wanted the things was stronger than the thing that wanted the true life. He was too weak to make that "go" decision. He belonged to the weakly fellowship of the saltless ones. They are not wholly saltless, but that's the chief thing that marks them. It's a long-lived fellowship, continuing to this day, with a large membership in good and regular standing.
I think the real trouble with this fine-grained lovable young man was in his eyes, the way they looked, what they saw. It was a matter of seeing things in true perspective. He didn't get a good look at the Man he asked his question of. He was looking so intently at the things that he couldn't get the use of his eyes for a good look at the Man. This is a very common eye-trouble. He was all right outward, toward his fellows, but he wasn't all right upward toward the Father.
And yet even that statement must be changed. For a man cannot be right with his fellows who is not right with God. When God doesn't have the passion of the heart, our fellows don't have all they should properly have from us; there is a lack. The common law may be kept, the pounds and yards may weigh and measure off fully what is due them from us, but the uncommon law, the love-law is not being kept. The warm spirit that should breathe out through all our dealings is lacking. It's been checked by the check in the upper movement. Only the spirit that flows freely up, ever flows freely out.
That young Indian aristocrat we spoke of elsewhere got a sight of Jesus. That settled things for him, including even such sacred things as human loves. This young Jewish aristocrat couldn't get his eyes off of the things. So many "thing"-slaves there are, so much "thing"-slavery. If only there were the sight of His face! His face; torn? yes; scarred? yes again, but oh, the strength and light and love in it!
Do you remember that other young Jewish, university-trained aristocrat? He got a look, one good long look-in-the-face look of that face, one day, on the road up to the northern Syrian capital. The light of it flooded his face, and strangely affected him. He said "when I could not see for the glory of that light." He couldn't see things for Him. The sight of Him blurred out the things. The great need to-day is for a sight of Him. Lord Jesus, if Thou wouldst show us Thy "hands and feet" again, and torn face, even as in the upper room that resurrection evening, for that's what we are needing. And yet, Thou art doing just that, but the things so hold our vision! And the Master's answer is the same as to the young Jew. We need the decisive "go"; the incisive, inclusive "sell"; the privileged "give"; the new-meaninged "come" into His presence. And then we may get "in behind" Him, and follow close up in the "same road," with eyes for naught but Himself.
I want to follow the Master's plan, and ask you to take a good look at His "Follow Me" road. You remember that we have had one talk together about the characteristics of our Lord Jesus' life. Now we want to talk a little about the experiences of His life. And I do not mean that we are to try to imitate these experiences, or any of them. The meaning goes much deeper than this, and yet it marks out a simpler road for our feet. I mean that as we actually go along with this Master of ours, these experiences will work out in our lives.
As we let Him in as actual Lord, and get our ears trained for His quiet voice, there will come to us some of the same things that come to Him.
The same Spirit at work within us, and the same sort of a world at work without, will so work against each other as to produce certain other results, now as then. It is not to be an attempt at imitation; it's far more. It is to be obedience on our part, a real Presence within on His part, and a bitter antagonism without on the world's part; rhythmic full glad obedience, a sympathetic powerful real Presence, a tense and intensifying subtle, relentless, but continually-being-thwarted opposition. The key-note for us is simple, full obedience.
There were certain great outstanding experiences in our Lord Jesus' life. Let us briefly notice what these were and group them together. There was the Bethlehem Birth. That was a thing altogether distinctive in itself. It was a supernatural birth, the Spirit of God working along purely human lines, in a new special way, for a special purpose. It was a rare blending of God and man in the action of life. It was followed by the Nazareth Life; that was a commonplace life, lived in a commonplace village, but hallowed by the presence of the Father, and sweetened by the salt of everything being done under that Father's loving eye. The Father's presence accepted as a real thing became the fragrance of that commonplace daily life. And this life covered most of those human years.
Then our Lord turned from the hidden life of Nazareth to the public ministry. At its beginning stands the Jordan Baptism of Power. In the path of simple obedience He had gone to the Jordan, taken a place among the crowds, and accepted John's baptism. And in this act of obedience, there comes the gracious act of His Father's approval, the Holy Spirit came down upon Him in gracious, almighty power. And from this moment He was under the sway of the Spirit of Power. This was the special preparation and fitting for all that was to follow.
At once the Spirit driveth Him into the Wilderness. And for forty days He goes through the great experience of the Wilderness Temptation. In intensity and in prolonged action, it was the greatest experience thus far in His life. He suffered, being tempted. It was a concentration of the continuous temptation of the following years of action. But the Wilderness spelled out two words, temptation and victory; temptation such as had never yet been brought, and met, and fought; victory beyond what the race had known. Temptation came to have a new spelling for man, v-i-c-t-o-r-y. It came to have a new spelling for the tempter, d-e-f-e-a-t.
After His virtual rejection by the nation as its Messiah, and the imprisonment of him who stood nearest Him as Messiah,--John the Herald, there followed the Galilean Ministry. For those brief years He was utterly absorbed in personally meeting and ministering to the crying needs of the crowds. Compassion for needy men became the ruling under-passion. He was spent out in responding to the needs of men. It was not restricted to Galilee, but that stands out as the chief scene of this tireless unceasing service. The Galilean ministry meant a life spent in meeting personally the needs of men.
In the midst of that, made increasingly difficult by the ever-increasing opposition, there came the experience of the Transfiguration Mount. It comes at a decisive turning point, where He is beginning the higher training of the Twelve for the tragic ending, so surprising and wholly unexpected to them. For a brief moment the dazzling light within was allowed to shine through the garments of His humanity. What was within transfigured the outer, the human face and form. And the overwhelming outshining light was evidence to those three men of the divine glory, the more-than-human glory hidden away within this human man.
Then within a week of the end came the Gethsemane Agony. That was the lone, sore stress of spirit under the load of the sin of others. In Gethsemane He went through in spirit what on the morrow He went through in actual experience. Gethsemane was the beginning, the anticipation of Calvary, so far as that could be anticipated. Anticipation here was terrific; yet less terrific than the actual experience.
And then came the climax, the overtopping experience of all for Him, as for us, the Calvary Cross. There He died of His own free will. He died for us. He died that we might not die. He took upon Himself what sin brings to us, while the Father's face was hidden. So He freed us from the slavery of sin, made a way for us back to real life, and so touched our hearts by His love that we were willing to go back.
And close upon the heels of that came the burial in Joseph's tomb. The burial was the completion of the death. The tomb was the climax of the cross. He was actually dead and buried. The corn of wheat had fallen down into the ground and been covered up. There was nothing lacking to make full and clear that Jesus had died.
Then came the stupendous experience of the Resurrection Morning. Our Lord Jesus yielded to death fully and wholly. Then He seized death by the throat and strangled it. He put death to death. Then He quietly yielded to the upward gravity of His sinless life and rose up. He lived the dependent life even so far as yielding to death, and now the Father quietly brought Him back again to life, to a new life.
And after waiting a while on earth among men, long enough to make it quite clear to His disciples that it was really Himself really back again, He quietly yielded further to the upward gravity, and entered upon the Ascension Life, up in the Father's presence. That life is one of intercession. He ever liveth to make intercession for us. He is our pleading advocate at the Father's right hand. Thirty years of the Nazareth life, three and a half years of personal service, nineteen hundred years, almost, of praying. What an acted-out lesson to us on prayer, the big place it had and has with Him, the true proportion of prayer to all else!
These are the experiences of our Lord Jesus that stand out clear above the mountain range of His life. It was all a high mountain range; these are the great peaks jutting sharply up above the range.
At the Loom.
Now these peaks, these outstanding experiences, as you look at them a bit, seem to fall naturally into three groups. There were certain experiences of power and of privilege, the Bethlehem Birth, the Jordan Baptism, the Nazareth Life, and the Galilean Ministry.
There were experiences of suffering and sacrifice, the Wilderness Temptation, the Gethsemane Agony, the Calvary Death, and the Joseph's Tomb of Burial.
And then there were certain experiences of gladness and great glory, the Transfiguration Mount, the Resurrection Morning, the Ascension Life, and, we shall find a fourth here also, a future experience, the Kingdom Reign and Glory.
These outstanding events, while distinct in themselves, are also representative of continual experiences. The Jordan Baptism stands not only for that event, but for the power throughout those forty and two months. The same sort of suffering that came in Gethsemane had run all through His life, but is strongest in Gethsemane. So each of these experiences is really like a peak resting upon the mountain range of constant similar experience. And these three groups of experience continuously intermingled, interlaced and interwoven, made up the pattern of that wondrous life.
Now these same experiences of His are also the great experiences that will characterize the "Follow Me" life, for every one who will follow fully. It will always remain true that these experiences were distinctive of Him. They meant more to Him than they will or can mean to any other. But it is also true that they will come to us in a degree that will mean everything to us.
I want to change the figure of speech here. I think it will help. This invitation, "Follow Me," is the language of a road, the picture of one walking behind another in a road. And that will remain in our minds as the chief picture of this pleading call. But there's another bit of picture talking that will help. That is the picture of a weaver's loom, with the warp threads running lengthwise, the shuttle threads running crosswise, and the cross beam (or batten) driving each shuttle thread into place in the cloth with a sharp blow.
These three groups of experiences are like so many hanks of threads in the loom, in which the pattern of life is being woven. The experiences of power and privilege are the warp threads running lengthwise of the loom, into which the others are woven. These make up the foundation of the fabric.
The other two groups make up the shuttle threads, running crosswise, being woven into the warp. The experiences of suffering and sacrifice are the dark threads, the gray threads, sometimes quite black, and the red threads, blood red. The experiences of gladness and glory are the bright threads, yellow, golden, sunny threads.
And the daily round of life, the decisions, the actual step after step in living out the decisions, the patient steady pushing on, is the beam that with sharp blow pushes each thread into its place in the fabric being woven.
As we allow the same Spirit that swayed our Lord's life to control us, He will work out in us certain of these same experiences. And the enmity aroused, and working against that Spirit's presence and control, will bring certain other experiences. Our part will be simple obedience, listening, looking, studying quietness so as to insure keener ears and eyes--it's the quiet spirit that hears what He is saying--then obeying, using all the strength of will, and all the grace at our disposal, simply to hold steady and true, and to obey, no matter what threatens to come, or what actually does come. This will be found to be like weaving.
Probably you have often heard of how the weavers work in the famous Gobelin tapestry factories in Paris. They know nothing of the beauty of the pattern being woven. They work on the "wrong" side, the under side of the web. They miss the inspiration of seeing the rare beauty they themselves are making. All the weaver sees is the apparent tangle of many coloured threads and thread ends, while he thrusts in his needles according to the card of instructions. The more faithfully and skilfully he can follow the directions the better a piece of weaving work is done.
We simply obey. We use all the strength we have, and the skill we can acquire, in obeying. We are not to depend on what we can see or feel for inspiration, only on the Master Looms-man; on His word, written, and spoken in our hearts, and on His answering peace within. Obedience is the one key-note for all the music. Surrender is the first act of full obedience. Obedience is the habitual surrender. Our part is to hear right and do what He bids.
Some day we shall be fairly swept off our feet by the beauty of the pattern He has been weaving--if we've let Him have His way at the loom.