By S.D. Gordon
The Never-absent Minor.
Here the road begins to drop down into the valleys. It runs sharply down, and on, through some wild gulches and ravines thick with lurking danger, with the upper-lights almost lost in the deep black darkness. It is darkness that can be felt more than the Egyptian darkness ever was. It proves to be the valley of the shadow of death, then--of death itself, before the upward turn comes.
The weaver we were speaking of finds some strange shuttle-threads to be woven into the pattern, gray black, ugly black threads, and red threads almost wet and sticky in their blood-like redness.
Yet this is part of the road that was trodden, and that is still waiting to be trodden by feet sturdy and bold enough to go on down into the shadows, before the upward turn is reached again. And these threads will work out a rare beauty in the pattern being woven.
Is there perfect music without the underchording of the minor? Not to human ears. For they are attuned to life as it has really come to be. And the minor chord is in real life, never quite absent; and the minor chord is in the true human heart, never wholly absent. And only the music with the minor blended in is the real music of human life. Only it can play upon the finest strings of the human heart.
But this sort of thing, the getting of beauty out of ugly threads, the getting of music where there is discord, the upward turn again of the valley road, all this is a bit of the touch of God upon life, where the hurt of sin has come in. Only the Lord Jesus can make music where sin had brought in and wrought out such discord. Only He can change the weaving into beauty, where the ugly slimy sin-threads have come in. He can lead up again out of the depths, but only He. His blood, Himself, is the thing added that makes music where no melody had ever been a possible thing; and gives the weaver's threads the transforming touch that works beauty where there was only the ugly; and pulls you up again to the higher levels. The good never comes out of bad. It comes only by something radically different coming in and overcoming the bad.
In Seoul they showed us the great bell hung at the crossing of certain chief streets there. And then they told us the bell's legend. In early twilight times an artisan had made a great bell at the king's command, but the tone of it was not pleasing to the royal ears. So a second one was made, and a third, but neither was satisfactory. Then the king said that if the man did not make a bell with pleasing tones his life should be forfeited for his failure. This was very distressing for the poor unfortunate bell-moulder.
His daughter, a young girl in her teens, either had a vision, or felt within herself that a sacrifice was the thing needful to give the bell its true tone. And so she resolved to give herself to save her father, and with rare fortitude one night she plunged into the great pot of molten metal. And the tone of the bell was so sweet and musical that the king was delighted. And the maker, instead of being killed, was highly honoured. So ran the simple bit of Korean folklore.
We ran across legends quite like it in other parts of the Orient. They all seemed to point, with other similar evidence, to the feeling deep down in human consciousness of the need of sacrifice. Is it a bit of an innate instinct in our common human nature, that only through sacrifice can the hurt of life be healed? However this be, it certainly is true, that the touch of Him who gave His life clear out for men, that touch is the thing, and the only thing, that can make music where there was only discord. It is only His pierced hand upon weaver and web that touches ugly threads into beauty as they are woven into the fabric of life. Only He can lead us up out of the valley of death up to the road of life along the high hilltops.
You remember, there were four experiences of suffering and sacrifice in our Lord Jesus' life. The first of these was the Wilderness Temptation. That rough road He took led straight to and through a wilderness. He was tempted. He was tempted like as we are. He was tempted more cunningly and stormily than we ever have been.
It was a pitched battle, planned for carefully, and fought with all the desperateness of the Evil One at bay against overwhelming forces. It was planned by the Holy Spirit, and fought out by our Lord in the Spirit's strength. For forty full lone days it ran its terrific course. But our Lord's line of defence never flinched. The Wilderness and Waterloo, those two terrific matchings of strength, the one of the spirit, the other of the physical, both were fought out on the same lines. Wellington's only plan for that battle was to stand, to resist every attempt to break his lines all that fateful day. The French did the attacking all day, until Wellington's famous charge came at its close.
Our Lord Jesus' only plan for the Wilderness battle was to stand, having done all to stand, to resist every effort to move Him a hair's breadth from His position. That battle brought Him great suffering; it took, and it tested, all His strength of discernment, and decision, of determined set persistence, and of dependent, deep-breathed praying. And through these the gracious power of the Spirit worked, and so the victory, full joyous victory, came.
Now it comes as a surprise to some of us to find that the "Follow Me" road leads straight to the same Wilderness. No, it is not just the same, none of these experiences mean as much to us as they did to Him. They are always less. But then they mean everything to us! We will be tempted. So surely as one sets himself to follow the blessed Master, there's one thing he can always count upon--temptation. Sooner or later it will come, usually sooner and later. So the Evil One serves notice to contest our allegiance to the new Master.
The tempter sees to it that you are tempted. That belongs to his side of the conflict. And quickly and skilfully, and with good heart he goes at his task. Through the weak or evil impulses and desires within us, and through every avenue without, those dearest to us, and every other, he will begin and continue his cunning approaches. It is well to understand this clearly, and so be ready. The closer you follow this Man ahead, the more, and the more surely, will you be tempted. It is one of the things you can count on--temptation.
But, steady there, steady! the tempter can't go a step beyond attacking, without your help. He can't make a single break in your lines from without. The only knob to the door of your life is on the inside. Temptation never gets in without help from within. I have said that the Wilderness spelled two words for our Lord Jesus, temptation and victory. We may use His spelling if we will. A temptation is a chance for a victory. Begin singing when temptation comes; out of it, resisted, comes a new steadiness in step, and a new confidence in the victorious Man of the Wilderness.
But let me tell you how the victory comes. It comes through our Lord Jesus. And it comes by His working through your decision to resist to the last ditch.
"Lead Us Not."
The Lord Jesus gave us two special temptation prayers to make. The one is: "Lead us not into temptation." That petition has been a practical puzzle to many of us, and the explanations not always quite clear. Would God lead us into temptation? we instinctively ask. And the answer seems to be both "yes" and "no."
The "yes" means that character can come only through right choice. We must decide what our attitude toward wrong shall be. It is only temptation resisted that makes the beginnings of strength. Before temptation comes there may be innocence but never virtue. Innocence resisting temptation becomes virtue. The temptation is the intense fire in which the raw iron of innocence changes into the toughened, tempered steel of virtue. It is essential to character that it resist the wrong. It is choice that makes character. The angels in the presence of God are continually choosing to remain loyal to Him. Choice includes choosing not to choose the evil, to refuse it. Adam was tempted; the temptation was bad, only bad; but it could have been made an opportunity to rise up into newness of strength. Job was led into temptation, and he failed when the fires grew in heat, and touched him close enough; and then he learned new dependence on God alone instead of on his own integrity.
That's the "yes" side of the answer. We must decide what we will do with evil. The presence of evil forces choice upon us. The one thing God longs for is our choice, free and full choice. Freedom of choice is the image of God in which every man is made. We are like Him in power, in the right to choose; we become like Him in character when we choose only the right. God would lead us into opportunity for the choice on which everything else hinges. The prayer says: "Lead us not into temptation." The prayer becomes the choice. It reveals the decision of your heart. The man who thoughtfully makes the prayer makes the choice.
And with that goes the "no" side. Certainly God would not lead us into the temptation to do wrong. And so He has made a way--it's a new way since our Lord Jesus was here--a way by which we can have the full opportunity for choice, and yet be sure of always choosing the right, and so growing into His image in character. To pray, "Lead us not into temptation," is practically saying, "I will go as Thou leadest. Lead me. I am willing to be led. I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on. I loved to choose and see my path, but now--but now, lead Thou me on. Here I am, willing to be led. I put out my hands for Thee to grasp and lead where Thou wilt. I'll sing, 'Where He may Lead, I'll Follow." This is the only safe road through the Wilderness. We yield wholly to His control.
May I say reverently, this was the way our Lord entered and passed through the Wilderness, wholly under the control of Another--the Holy Spirit. He chose to yield to that control. The Spirit acted through His yielding consent, and flooded in the power that brought the victory. Even He in His purity needs so to do. How much more we in our absence of purity, and so absence of strength. "Lead us not" means practically, that we get in behind this victorious Lord Jesus. We refuse to go alone.
The Wilderness spells only defeat for the man who goes alone. We must yield wholly to this great lone Man who went before. We lean upon Him. We trust Him as Saviour from the sin that temptation yielded to has already brought. We will trust His lead wholly now as temptation comes. We will stick close and be wholly pliant in His hands. This is the first temptation prayer our Lord gives us. It means our utter surrender to His leadership.
Then there is a second prayer for temptation use: "Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation." This goes with the other. It is the partner prayer. Be ever on the watch, and pray, that you may not enter into temptation. Guard prayerfully against acting independently of your Leader. Watch against the temptation. Watch yourself lest you be inclined to go off alone, to break away from His lead. For there will be only one result then, defeat. These two prayers together show the way to turn temptation into victory,--"lead not," "enter not." A temptation is a chance for a victory if you never meet it alone, but always under the lead of the great Victor of the Wilderness.
Then it may help to put the thing in another way. There are two steps in victory over temptation. The first is recognition. To recognize that the thing coming for decision is a temptation to something wrong,--that's the first step in victory. It pushes the temptation out into the open. You say plainly, "This is something to be resisted." The second step as you set yourself to resist is to plead the blood of the Lord Jesus. That means pleading His victory over the tempter. That's the getting in behind Him and depending wholly upon Him.
"Follow Me" takes us into the Wilderness, and leads us into victory there. There we will learn more about prayer, and music, and the Master, and get new strength and courage on this stretch of the valley road.
At the farther extreme of the service years, there came to the Lord Jesus the other three of these dark experiences, all three close together. On the night of the betrayal came the Gethsemane Agony. That was a very full evening. Around the supper table they had gathered and talked, and the Lord Jesus had made His last, tender but fruitless effort to touch Judas' heart by touching his feet. There was the long quiet heart-talk in the supper room after Judas had gone out, "and it was night" for poor Judas.
Then the talk continued as they walked across the city within view of the great brass vine on Herod's temple, so beautiful in the light of the full moon. And then, as they walk through the narrow, shadowed streets, the shadows come into the Lord Jesus' spirit and words. Now they are outside the wall of the city, out in the open, under the blue, and with upturned face, the great pleading prayer is breathed out. Now they are across the Kidron, and now in among the shadows of the huge olive trees of the garden called Gethsemane.
It's quite dark and late. He leaves the disciples to rest under the trees, and with the inner three He pushes a bit farther on. And now He pushes on quite alone in the farther lone recesses of the woods. And now the intensity of His spirit bends His body as He kneels, then is prostrate. And the agony is upon Him. He is fighting out the battle of the morrow. He is sinless, but on the morrow He is to get under the load of a world's sin; no, it was yet more than that, He was to be Himself reckoned and dealt with as sin itself. All the horror of that broke upon Him under those trees, more intensely than it had yet. The brightness of the full moon made the shadows of the trees very dark and black, but they seemed as nothing to this awful inky black shadow of the sin load that would come, no longer in shadow but actually, on the morrow.
The agony of it is upon Him as He falls prostrate on the ground, under the tense strain of spirit. Out of the struggle a bit of prayer reaches our awed ears, "If it be possible let this cup pass away from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt." And so tense is the strain that an angel comes to strengthen. With what reverent touch must he have given his help. Even after that the great drops of bloody sweat came. But now a calmer mood comes. The look full in the face of what was coming, the realizing more clearly how the Father's plan must work out, these help to steady Him. Again a bit of prayer is heard, "Since this cannot pass away; since only so can Thy plan for the world be accomplished Thy--will--be--done." The load of the world's sin almost broke His heart that dark night under the olives. It actually did break His heart on the morrow. This is the meaning of Gethsemane, intense suffering of spirit because of the sin of others.
And at first thought you say, surely there can be no following for any of us in this sore lonely experience of His. And there cannot. He was alone there as on the morrow. None of us can go through what He went through there. For, it was for us, and for our sin that He went through it. And yet there is a following, if different in degree and in depth of meaning, yet a very real following. While Gethsemane stands a lone experience for Jesus, yet there will be a Gethsemane for him who follows fully where He asks us to go.
There will be a real suffering of spirit because of the sin of others. We will see the world around us through those pure, seeing eyes of His. We will feel the ravages of sin in those we touch, with something of the feeling of His heart. Close walking with Christ brings pain and it will bring it more, and more acutely. We will see sin as He does, in part. We will feel with our fellow-men toiling in its grip and snare as He did, in part. There will be sore suffering of spirit. This is the Gethsemane experience, and it will not grow less but more.
"'O God,' I cried, 'why may I not forget?
These halt and hurt in life's hard battle
Throng me yet.
Am I their keeper? Only I? To bear
This constant burden of their grief and care?
Why must I suffer for the others' sin?
Would God my eyes had never opened been!'
And the Thorn-crowned and Patient One
Replied, 'They thronged Me too. I too have seen.'
'But, Lord, Thy other children go at will,'
I said, protesting still.
'They go, unheeding. But these sick and sad,
These blind and orphan, yea and those that sin
Drag at my heart. For them I serve and groan.
Why is it? Let me rest, Lord. I have tried--'
He turned and looked at me:
'But I have died!'
'But, Lord, this ceaseless travail of my soul!
This stress! This often fruitless toil
These souls to win!
They are not mine. I brought not forth this host
Of needy creatures, struggling, tempest-tossed--
They are not mine.'
He looked at them--the look of One divine;
He turned and looked at me. 'But they are mine!'
'O God, I said, 'I understand at last.
Forgive! And henceforth I will bond-slave be
To thy least, weakest, vilest ones;
I would not more be free.'
He smiled and said,
'It is to me.'"
The word Gethsemane has not been used accurately sometimes. And it is not good that it is so, for it keeps us from appreciating what the real meaning is. In poetry and otherwise it has been used for some great experience of sorrow in which the soul has struggled alone. But there are two things in the Gethsemane experience that give it a meaning quite different from such. The Gethsemane sorrow is on account of the sin of others, and it comes to us through our own consent, of our own action. We need not go through the Gethsemane experience save as we make the choice that comes to include this. It is only as we choose to follow fully, close up to His bleeding side, where the Lord Jesus is leading, that this experience of pain will come.
Moses knew what this meant. As he came from the presence of God in the mount the sin of the people seemed so terrible, that the fear that possibly it could not be forgiven unless he made some sacrifice sweeps over him and came out as a great sob. The sight of their sin brought sorest pain to his spirit. Paul tells us there was a continual cutting of a knife at his heart because of his racial kinsfolk, their sin, their stubbornness in sin, the awful blight upon their lives. There was sore, lone, unspeakable pain of spirit because he felt so keenly the sin of others. This is the Gethsemane experience. Have you felt something like this as you have come in touch with the sin, the blighted lives, the wreckage of lives among both poor and rich, lower class and better? You will if you follow where He leads.
Then came the morrow. The experience of Calvary came hard on the heels of Gethsemane. The pain of spirit became both pain of body and pain of spirit, intensified clear beyond what the night before had anticipated. How shall I trust myself to speak of that morrow, or you to listen? Yet, let us hold still, and, for a great purpose, look at it again, if only for a moment, that the meaning of it, the flame of it may take fresh hold, and consume us anew.
Gethsemane was followed by a sleepless night, while bitter hate brought its utmost iniquity and persistence to hound this Man to death. Nine, of the next morning, found Him hanging, nailed on the cross, crowned with the cruel mocking thorn crown. From nine till three He hung, while the strange darkness came down over all nature from noon till three, the blackness of midnight shutting out the brightness of noon. The Father's presence was withdrawn. This tells the bitterness of the cross for Jesus as does nothing else.
It was out of a breaking heart that the cry was wrung, "My God, My God, why didst Thou forsake Me?" When you can penetrate that darkness you may be able to tell how really Jesus took our place, and suffered as sin for us,--not before. Then with a great shout of victory He gave up His life. His great heart broke. He died. He died literally of a broken heart. The walls of that muscle were burst asunder by the terrific strain on His spirit.
He died for us. He who so easily held off the murderous mob with their stones, now holds Himself to that cross,--for us. This is the Calvary experience. It can be felt, but never explained fully; words fail. It can be yielded to until our hearts are melted to sobs, but never fully told in its tenderness and strength to others. It can bring us down on knees and face at His feet as His love-slaves for ever,--so is its story best told to others. That breaking heart breaks ours. That pierced side pierces through all our stubborn resistance. That face haunts us. Its scars tell of sin, ours. Its patient eyes tell of love, His. Was there ever such sin? Was there ever such love? Was there ever such a meeting of sin and purity, of love and hate, of God's best and Satan's worst?
Surely there can be no following here! And, strange to say, the answer is both a "no," with a double underscoring of emphasis, and a "yes," that will come to have a like emphatic underlining. No, there can be no following. Here, He is the Lone Man who went before. And He remains the Lone Man in what He did, and in the extent of His suffering. There is only one Calvary. There was only the One whose death could settle the sin score for us men. It is only by His death for our sin that there is any way out of our sore plight of sin, and sin's own result. There the Lord Jesus did something that had to be done, for the Father's sake; there He broke the slavery of our sin; there He broke our hearts by His love. There He stands utterly alone in what He did. Calvary has no duplicate, nor ever can have. That is the emphatic "no" side of the answer. There can be no following on that road.
And yet,--and yet, there can be. There is a "yes" side to the true, full answer. There will be a Calvary experience for every one who really follows. His was the Calvary experience, ours is a Calvary experience. It does not mean what His meant for the world. But it enters into the marrow of our very being, and means everything to us. It means that as I really follow there will come to me experiences of sacrifice that will take the very life of my life--if I do not pull back, but persist on following the beckoning hand. And it means too, that there will be in a secondary, a minor sense, a redemptive value in my suffering. That suffering will be a real thing in completing the work of some man's redemption.
Listen to Paul. He has been writing to the Corinthian Christians in much detail, of the suffering he has been going through of both body and spirit, and then he adds, "so then death working in me worketh life in you." The same thought underlies that wonderful bit of tender, tactful pleading in the eleventh and twelfth chapters of the same letter. The same thing is put in a rather startling way in the epistle to the Colossians, "I ... fill up on my part, in my flesh, that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ for His body's sake, which is the Church."
This fits in with the thought in that word "began" in the beginning of the book of Acts. In a very real sense our Lord depends upon our faithful following to supplement among men the great thing which only He could do. Paul knew a Calvary experience, and Peter and John, and so has, and will, every one who follows the pierced hand that beckons. Ask Horace Tracey Pitkin at Paotingfu if he understands this. And the China soil wet with his blood gives answer, and so do the lives of those who were won to Christ through such suffering throughout China. Ask David Livingstone away in the inner heart of Africa, and those whom no man can number in every nation, who have known this sort of thing by a bitter, sweet experience, some by violence, some by the yet more difficult daily giving out of the life in hidden away corners.