By S.D. Gordon
The Underground Road.
And hard following this came the Burial in Joseph's Tomb. "Christ died for our sins and ... He was buried." "Joseph took the body, ... and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock, and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb." "The chief priests and the Pharisees ... went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, the guard (of Roman soldiers) being with them."
Out of that sealed tomb comes with the emphasis of action, the emphasis of death, this word, "except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth by itself alone." The only pathway of life is the underground road. For our Lord, Joseph's tomb made the death clear beyond doubt. The tomb was the climax of the death. He was dead and buried. For him who follows it means this, a burial clear out of sight in the soil of the need of men's lives. He who simply gets in behind and faithfully follows will find himself actually being buried in the needs of men. And only where there is such a burial can there come resurrection power into the life.
I remember a friend in Philadelphia, a young man who resigned an influential position to go out as a missionary in India. And another friend not at all in sympathy remarked sneeringly in my hearing, "He's gone to bury himself in India." He spoke more aptly than he knew. The years since have told what a blessed burial that was. For scores of lives in Southern India have known the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus through his service.
Do you remember when the Greeks came to Philip with their great plea, "Sir, we would see Jesus"? Whether really from Greece, or Greek-speaking people from elsewhere, or simply non-Jewish people, they represented the outer, non-Jewish world coming to Jesus. The Jew door was slammed violently in His face, but here was the great outer-world door opening. And He had come to a world! But instantly, across the vision so attractive to His eyes, there came another vision, never absent from His spirit those last weeks, the vision black and forbidding, of a cross. And He knew that only through this vision of a cross could the vision of a world coming be realized. And out of the sore stress of spirit, that for a few brief moments shook Him, came the quietly spoken, tense words, "Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone."
The road to Greece is not over the sea here to the west, not the overland caravan route up north through Asia Minor; it is the road down through Joseph's tomb. That was true for Him. It was by that road that He so marvellously reached the Greeks and all the world. And this is true for us. It is only by this road that we can reach out to the crowds with the reach-in that touches heart and life.
These are the four experiences of suffering and sacrifice. This is the dip-down in the "Follow Me" road where it runs through a darkly shadowed valley. These are the dark and red shuttle-threads being woven into the web, by repeated sharp blows of the batten-beam. These are the minor chords that, coming up through the strains of music, give a peculiar sweetness to it.
What Is Sacrifice?
Now you will note that the chief thing in all this is sacrifice. The chief thing in all of our Lord's life, clear from Bethlehem to Calvary and the tomb, was sacrifice. It runs ever throughout; it finds its tremendous climax in the cross. And the word to put in here in quietest tone--the quietest is tensest, and goes in deepest--the word is this: Following means sacrifice. It means sacrifice as really for the follower as for the Lone Man ahead.
That word "sacrifice" has practically been dropped out of the dictionary of the Christian Church of the western world. It has not been wholly lost. There is much real sacrifice, no doubt, under the surface. But, in the main, it is one of the lost words in our generation of the Church. We are rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing that we cannot provide by the lavish use of money; so we think. And the loss of that word explains the loss from our working dictionaries of another word, power. For the two words always go together.
But please note what sacrifice means. For we may get confused in the use of words, and like the Hebrews in Isaiah's day call things by the wrong names. Sacrifice does not merely mean suffering, though there may be much suffering included in it. But there may be suffering where there is no sacrifice. It does not mean privation, though there may be real painful privation in it. But again there may be much privation and pain without any element of sacrifice entering in.
The heart of sacrifice is that it is voluntary, and that it really costs you something. It is something that would not come to you unless you decide to let it come. It is wholly within your power to keep it away, and it brings with it real pain or cost of some kind. Sacrifice means doing something, or doing without something, that so help may come to another, even though it costs you some real personal suffering of spirit, or of body, or both, or lack of what you should have and would enjoy.
And please note that sacrifice is not the key-note of the "Follow Me" life. We are not to seek for sacrifice. Perhaps that is quite a needless remark. We are not likely to seek for it. No one loves a cross any more than did Peter, when he had the hardiness to rebuke his Master. And yet we remember those earnest souls in earlier times, who shut themselves up behind monastic walls, and inflicted pain upon themselves by privation and by bodily self-infliction. And we cannot help admiring their earnestness and saintliness, even while we see how morbid was their conception of life, and how completely they got the true order reversed. And there can be found some here and there, among us to-day, with the same idea.
But the key-note of the true life is not sacrifice. It is obedience. Sacrifice is something coming in the pathway of obedience. There come the places and times where you cannot obey without making a sacrifice. Obedience involves sacrifice. And the sacrifice may be of the very real, cutting, hurting sort, personally. The whole instinct of one's being is against it. This seems to be carrying things quite too far, we think. And so the test is on. The sacrifice is not sought. It is shrunk from with all the vigour of one's nature. Obedience means that you go steadily on, no matter how it cuts, or how much it costs.
And the motive under the obedience is usually the decisive thing. If that motive be a personal passion for the Lord Jesus, then you only wait long enough to be quite clear of His leading, of what He would have you do. And then you go on, regardless of the personal loss or pain to yourself. The key-note of the "Follow Me" music is obedience, simple, sane, poised, full obedience.
How Much It Cost God.
One day out in Illinois, while visiting a small church college, I was told this story of one of the students. He had felt very deeply the need of the foreign mission lands, and the plea being made for men to volunteer to go out as missionaries. And after much thought and prayer he had decided to volunteer. But he felt he must first get his mother's consent. So he wrote of his purpose and asked if she were willing that he should go. In due time the reply came back. It was a mother's letter to her son, full of a mother's endearments. But the paper was marked with tear-stains. She gave her consent. She said, "I'm glad my boy wants to go, and I'm glad to have you go, but"--and here the writing was blurred with the teardrops that had plainly fallen as she wrote--"I never knew before how much it cost God to give His Son."
There was the whole story of sacrifice as it came to that mother. There was the sore need of the people in foreign lands for the Gospel of Christ. That need had not been met. The need in its sore pressure had become an emergency, largely an unappreciated emergency. The tragedy of an unmet emergency had moved the son's heart to action, under the touch of the Holy Spirit, and then it came to the mother's heart. The decision rested with her. Her inner heart told her the Master's desire. She obeyed, with exquisite pain in her heart over the separation, maybe separation for life, from her son. The key-note is obedience, even though it may mean cutting pain.
The whole test of love and of life is in sacrifice yielded to as the need may come. In God's first plan of life there is no sacrifice. God never chooses sacrifice as His first choice for any one, not even for His Son. But sin is here, an abnormal, foreign thing. Life is shot through and through with its ugly markings. You can't go a foot's length down the pathway of obedience without finding the keen edge of a knife, freshly sharpened, held across the path with its cutting edge toward you, challenging your advance, doing its utmost to hold you back.
And only as the breast is bared to the cutting until a bit of your red life stains the knife, only so can there be any of the power of God in, or through, or out of, your life. But turn that sentence around, and smile in your heart as you remember this, as you do push quietly on past the cutting knife, and say never a word about the knife or the sharp pain--the best folks never talk about their sacrifices, they are too intent on the Man just ahead,--as a man so does, there come into his life a fire and a fragrance that burns and breathes out wherever he goes.
It is sin that makes sacrifice. Sin did the carpenter work on the cross, our sin. Sin grew the thorns, and then served as weaver to make the mocking, cutting crown--our sin, yours and mine. Love yields to the sacrifice, His love for us, His love in us for the others. Sin is everywhere. Its finger-print is in nature, and its scar on human life. And sin's ravages make cruel need, and need intensified makes emergency, and these involve sacrifice as we rise to meet need and emergency.
And love is everywhere. That is, it would be, it will be, if it can find human feet to carry it. It will be if our Lord may have His way. Sacrifice is Love's healing shadow. Sacrifice is love giving the oil and wine of its own life to bind up the wounds that sin has made. The "Follow Me" road is marked red, so you trace His footprints who went ahead, and theirs who follow.
What Obedience Has Meant for Some.
But, no one can decide for another what obedience may mean for him. You may not tell me, nor I you. It is intensely interesting to note what obedience has meant to some. It led Paul to give up inheritance and family prestige, social standing, fellowship in university circles, a home life of scholarly quiet and research, and to be reproached and ostracized, to be homeless having no certain abiding place, dependent on his own hands for daily bread, as he went burning like a flame from end to end of the Roman world. And at the end it meant a prison, and block and axe.
I met a rare Christian nobleman in London, of an old, honoured family, of whom a friend told me this. This nobleman had a large inheritance. Among other things a certain estate. He felt led to place the estate on the market, get the best possible return for it, and then with his shrewd business sense, prayerfully to place the proceeds where he felt they would help best the cause of Christ. And to a friend who expressed appreciation and approval of such unusual action, he quietly said, "I want no praise for this; if the poor Jew had to give one-tenth, surely a rich Christian can do very much more." That was what obedience, at that point, meant to him.
I knew a Canadian woman who had been led to a higher level in her Christian life. A friend put into her hands a bit of manuscript, to which she had access, thinking it would help her in her new life. The manuscript was read, and returned through the friend to its writer. He had intended having it published with some others, if a publisher could be found willing to accept it. Then he had felt that he would do nothing with it until very clear leading came. He did not want to do anything, except as he was led. If the Master wanted to use the writing, it was there if He chose to give the word for its use.
Sometime after as the woman was busy with her nursing work she was on night duty, and had her quiet time in an interval of the night's round. As she was reading her Bible and praying, she said, "A voice said to me very quietly, 'Send Mr. Blank twenty-five dollars to publish ----'" [naming the title of the article she had read]. Twenty-five dollars taken out of her frugal savings would leave quite a hole. But the impression that came with the message was unmistakable. And so the money was sent. And it was received by the writer of the manuscript as the Master's answer for which he had been waiting. And that was the beginning of some little books whose messages have been graciously used to bring help to many lives. Her bit of obedience was a link in the chain, and so a bit of her life is in the printed messages the Master has been using. The tracing of red was on the gold, and on the messages sent out. That was what obedience meant that time to her. And obedience usually has its hardest time when its struggle is over a bit of gold.
A friend took us driving one day up in Scotland, and told this story as we passed through a beautiful estate. A few generations back it belonged to one who followed fully. And in response to the clear inner leading the estate was sold, and the proceeds used in sending the message of a crucified, risen Christ, out to the farther ends of the earth.
It was at the same time that a like incident came personally to me of another Scottish friend of our Lord Jesus. The beckoning call was so distinct, and the answering need so clear in its echo, that he planned a moderate annuity for the remainder of his life, and loosed out all the rest of his wealth on the same sort of errand. I do not say you should do something of this sort. And you may not tell me what I shall do. Only the Master has that privilege. But we can urge each other to have trained ears, and soft heart, and obedient will; ears for what the Master is saying, a heart softened by the warmth of His, a will gladly obedient to His slightest wish.
And our Lord Jesus speaks very distinctly, though so quietly. His meaning is unmistakably plain to listening ears. He is quite apt to take you off for a little walk and talk. What kind of a house do you live in? What proportion of your income do you spend on yourself? What is in those safety-deposit boxes? How much would it mean to Him if your signature at the bottom of legal papers put some property at His disposal? Take a look through your wardrobe; who and what controls there? No, I'm not talking about money, nor about missions, only about a personal passion for the Lord Jesus, and about the passion in Him for His world.
"But," you say to yourself, "there's danger of going to extremes here, is there not?" Yes, there is; you are quite right. Extremes are bad, we should be on our guard against them. There is nothing more desirable in these days than sane, poised judgment, a sound mind. And be it keenly marked that the man who is really swayed by the Holy Spirit is peculiarly a sane, well-balanced man. That is one mark of the Spirit's presence.
Yet there's more to be said. Our Lord Jesus went to extremes. He went to a great extreme on the cross, did He not? Is there any extreme like that of Gethsemane? and Calvary? It is because He went to such extremes, and the West knows about it, that the West is so radically different from the East, and that you and I are redeemed from the slavery of sin, with a sweet peace in our hearts, and so much happiness in our lives.
The distressing thing is that there is so much of going to extremes. Go through the Christian homes of the western world to-day, and you find home appointments, wardrobes, safety-deposit boxes, bank books, title deeds, all spelling out one word, spelled in capital letters, EXTREMES. But that key-note, named several times already, gives the only safe way--obedience. We need to be on our guard, not so much lest we go to extremes at either extreme, but that we obey our Lord Jesus. That, and that only, leads to the wise, well-balanced judgment and action. Obedience to Him means true sanity.
Where do you draw the deciding line between necessity and luxury? How do you define those two words? What is necessity? And what is luxury? Simple definitions help much in getting clear ideas. The dictionary says, a necessity is something you must have. And a luxury, in its root meaning, is an extravagance, something "wandering beyond the proper boundary." The trouble is to know how to draw the line when it comes to one's own affairs. There is such a big difference between what you want and what you need. And often we don't want to go into such distinctions. They might bother our consciences a bit. It seems difficult to keep one's poise in such things. Some godly people go to extremes in not providing sufficiently for real needs. Most of us go to the other extreme. Where does the true dividing line come in?
Well, I think you can say truly that whatever keeps up and adds to your strength can properly be called a necessity. All beyond that line is luxury. It is the part of wisdom to provide carefully and well for necessities. Luxury is bad, for it really saps our strength. It makes a man less vigorous in every way. And yet more can be said. The question of need comes in. Luxury is wrong because of the crying need of men for what the money spent in luxury would bring to them. I think chiefly now of the need of their lives for what can come only through a knowledge of Christ. The bitter cry of the common people against Louis XVI, at the time of the French Revolution, was that the royal family lived on the costliest delicacies while many of the common people were actually starving. They thought that was the chief crime to be expiated at the guillotine.
What is necessary for one's strength moves on a sliding scale. As years come, and the sort of work one does and his strength change, his needs increase. What might at one time have been reckoned luxury is now a real necessity for his best strength and work. Whatever ministers to one's strength is a necessity. All above this becomes luxury, and so is both hurtful to strength, and wrong in itself.
A missionary returning to his home-land, on furlough, noted on his first return home that what had been considered luxuries before he left, were now reckoned necessities; on his second furlough he noted again that what had been reckoned luxury on his first return was now counted necessity. And each return home found this condition repeating itself.
It reminded me of the experience of Sir John Franklin in one of his Arctic explorations. His ship was hemmed in by an ice-field so that progress was impossible. All he could do was to calculate his longitude and latitude, and wait. The next day he was still hemmed in, and so far as he could see, was exactly where he had been on the previous day. But on calculating longitude and latitude again, he was surprised to find that the ship had drifted several miles backward from the position of the previous day.
It would be a sensible thing for us to make frequent calculations, and find out where we are, and prayerfully steer a changed course if we've been drifting. But we can't decide such questions for each other, and they can't be decided by what another does. They can only be decided alone on one's knees with the Master, with the Book, and perhaps a map of the world at hand. We need both the Word of God, and a view of the world of God to shape our judgment. No, it's not a question of money primarily, nor of missions, only of personal loyalty to our Lord Jesus, and to the passion of His heart.
Have you noticed the significance of that word "abide" which our Lord used on the night of His betrayal? "Abide" means a grafting process; we were branches in the vine, but we were broken off by sin. The only way to abide in that vine is by being grafted in. "Abide" means grafted. But the grafting process has two wounds. It means a knife used twice. It means a wound in the vine-stock, and our Master flinched not there. It means likewise a wound in the branch to be grafted in. Just as surely as the knife must make the incision into the stock, it must also cut the end of the branch before it can be grafted in. Our Master flinched not. How about you and me when it comes to the knife, with its sharp cutting edge, and slash and sting?
Perhaps this explains why there's so little life, so little sap-flow, so little fruit. If you follow along the narrow road your progress is sure to be barred by a knife thrust out across the path. And the whole instinct of our nature is to shrink from the knife. The sacrificial knife becomes the pruning, the grafting knife. There can be no life without that knife. Failure to obey cuts off the supply of life.
I became greatly interested in a young man whom I met in Japan. He comes of a noble, wealthy family. He attended a mission school to study English, learned to read the Bible, became intensely interested, and then decided to become a Christian. But his family was violently opposed, and pleaded earnestly with him. He would in time be the head of his family, but if he insisted now on being a Christian he would be disowned. He was to be trained in the Imperial University, and could have chosen a public national career including the probability of membership in the Imperial diet, but he remained true to his decision. And he was disowned in disgrace, cast adrift without a cent. Now he is devoting himself to mission work in the city where I met him, working among the neediest and lowest. I was told that the police gladly say that his mission has greater power than they in preserving order in that worst quarter of the city.
The night I stood by his side, speaking through his interpretation, a Japanese policeman dragged up a couple of youths who had been giving trouble, and pushed them in, saying, "Here's the place for you; now listen to that." And I have never been in a simple service where the quiet intense power of God was more marked. This is what obedience meant to him. And this too is what abiding meant. He yielded to the grafting knife, and the life of the vine-stock came flowing freely through, bearing abundant fruit.
A few years ago I read a simple story in "The Sunday-school Times" that brought a lump in my throat. The writer told of a south-bound train stopping at a station near Washington City. At the last moment, an old negro with white hair came hurriedly forward and clambered on the last coach as the train pulled out. He was very black, and very dusty, and single occupants of seats looked apprehensive as he shuffled along looking for a seat. But he did not offer to intrude, but stood at the end of the car, looking with big wondering eyes down the car. He was evidently very tired. Then a young man offered him space in his seat, for which he seemed very grateful, and with child-like simplicity began talking.
He was going back home "to Georgy"; had been up in Virginia for years with the rare old slave loyalty serving his old master between times, while earning his own way. Now his master was dead and he was going back down to the old home state, "back to Georgy," and the words came softly, while his hand tenderly patted the seat cushion. Clearly Georgia was the acme of happiness and content for him. As the train boy came through, the young man bought some sandwiches for the old negro. He was very grateful. Yes, he was hungry, and had walked several miles to get the train. He couldn't spend money for "victuals"; "money's too skase fur buying things on the road," he said, "I was 'lowin' ter fill up arter I done reach Georgy."
Then the conductor came in for tickets. The black man anxiously fumbled through one pocket after another, and finally remembered that his ticket was pinned to the lining of his hat. "Done tuk ebery cent I could scrape up to get dat ticket," he said, "but dat's all right. I kin wuk, an' fo'ks don' need money when dey's home." The conductor had passed on to the next seat behind. There sat a shabbily dressed woman, with anxious, frightened-looking face, the seat full of bundles and a pale-faced baby in arms.
The woman's face flushed red, and then grew white and set, as she said, "I haven't any."
"Have to get off then; save me the trouble of putting you off."
The woman sprang up with terror in her big eyes, "Don't put me off; my husband's dying; the doctor said he must go South; we've sold everything left to send him; now he's dying; I must go to him. But I have no money, don't put me off. My God--my God--if you--" Her plea poured out in excited, jerky sentences. But the conductor could do nothing. He must obey his instructions, or be discharged. The woman sank back sobbing, in the seat. The conductor turned back to get the old negro's ticket.
"I'se feared you'll have to put me off, boss," he said humbly, "don't expect a pore ole nigger like me to raise enuf fur a ticket." The conductor harshly ordered him off the train at the next station, saying there was some excuse for the poor woman, but none for him. The train began to slow up for the station. The old negro quietly dropped his ticket into the lap of the woman, saying, "Here's yo' ticket, missus. I do hopes yo' find dat husban' o' yourn ain' so bad as yo'se afeared." And before her dazed eyes could take in what he was doing, the old man had shuffled out of the car, and as the train pulled on he was seen quietly plodding along, still "bound for Georgy."
And there was no mention of Christ in the story, but one who knows the old typical slave class to which he belongs needs not to be told of the motive down in his heart. That's what obedience, unanalyzed, undeliberated about, meant to him. Have you ever worn the "Georgy" shoes? Have you ever tramped to "Georgy"? If some of us might find out the old man's cobbler and get some "Georgy" tramping shoes! The way of obedience is a way of sacrifice.