By S.D. Gordon
Who it Was that Came
"But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat--and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet--
'All things betray thee, who betrayest Me'"
--"The Hound of Heaven."
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."
--Rev. iii. 20.
The Wooing Lover
(John i. 1-18.)
In His Own Image.
Love gives. It gives freely and without stint, yet always thoughtfully. It gives itself out, its very life. This is its life, to give its life. It lives most by giving most. So it comes into fullness of life.
So it gets. A thing of life, in its own image, comes walking eagerly with outstretched arms to its embrace. It gives that it may get. Yet the giving is the greater. It brings most joy.
This is the very essence of life, this giving creating spirit. It is everywhere, in lower life and higher and highest, wherever the touch of God has come. The sun gives itself out in life and light and warmth. And out to greet it comes a bit of itself--the fine form and sweet fragrance of the rose, the tender blade of grass, the unfolding green of the leaf, the wealth of the soil, the song of the bird and the grateful answer of all nature.
The hen sits long patient days on her nest. And forth comes cheeping life in her own image, answering the call of her mothering spirit. The mother-bird in the nest in the crotch of the tree gives her life day by day in brooding love. And her wee nestling offspring, in her own image, answers with glad increase of strength and growth.
Father and mother of our human kind give of their very life that new life may come. And under the overshadowing touch of an unseen Presence comes a new life made in their image, and in His who broods unseen over all three. And over the life wrecked by sin broods the Spirit of God. And out through the doorway of an opening will, comes a new creature of winsome life in the very image of that brooding Spirit of God.
This is the holy commonplace of all life. It is the touch of God. It is everywhere about us, and beneath and above. The father-mother Spirit of God broods over all our common life. And when things go wrong, He broods a bit closer and tenderer. He meets every need of the life He has created. And He meets it in the same way, by giving Himself.
And there's always the response. The fragrance of the rose answers the sun. The pipped shell brings the longed-for answer to the gladdened mother-bird. The ever wondrous babe-eyes give unspeakable answer to the yearning of father and mother heart. The heart of man leaps at the call of his God.
This makes quite clear the wondrous response men gave Jesus when He walked among us. Jesus was God coming a bit closer in His brooding love to mend a break and restore a blurred image. And men answered Him. They couldn't help it. How they came! They didn't understand Him, but they felt Him. They couldn't resist the tender, tremendous pull upon their hearts of His mere presence.
And Jesus drew man into the closest touch of intimate friendship. The long-range way of doing things never suited Him. And it doesn't. He didn't keep man at arm's length. And He doesn't. And then because they were friends, He and they, they were eager to serve, and willing even to suffer, to walk a red-marked roadway for Him they loved.
The Gospel According to--You.
Among all those who felt and answered the call of Jesus was one called John, John the disciple. Jesus drew John close. John came close. John lived close. John came early and he stayed late. He stayed to the very end, into the evening glow of life. And all his long life he was under the tender holy spell of Jesus' presence. He was swayed by the Jesus-passion. Always burning, he was yet never consumed; only the alloy burned up and burned out, himself refined to the quality of life called eternal.
Then John came to the end of his long life. And he knew he would be slipping the tether of life and going out and up and in to the real thing of life. And I think John was a bit troubled. Not because he was going to die. This never troubles the man who knows Jesus. The Jesus-touch overcomes the natural twinges of death. But he was troubled a bit in spirit for a little by the thought that he would not be on earth any longer to talk to people about Jesus. And to John this was the one thing worth while. This was the life-passion.
And so I think John prayed about it a bit. For this is what he did. He said to himself, "I will write a book. I'll make it a little book, so busy people can quickly read it. I'll pick out the simplest words I know so common folks everywhere that don't have dictionaries can easily understand. And I'll make them into the shortest simplest sentences I can so they can quickly get my story of Jesus." And so John wrote his little book. And we call it the story of Jesus according to John, or, as we commonly say the Gospel--the God-story--according to John.
And all this is a simple bit of a parable. It is a parable in action. Jesus is brooding over us, giving Himself, warmly wooing us. He woos us into personal friendship with Himself. And then He asks that each of us shall write a gospel. This is the Gospel according to John; and these others according to Luke and Mark and Matthew. He means that there shall be the gospel according to--you. What is your name? put it in there. Then you get the Master's plan. There is to be the gospel according to Charles and Robert and George, and Mary and Elizabeth and Margaret.
And you say, "Write a gospel? I couldn't do that. You don't mean that. That's just a bit of preaching." No, it isn't preaching. It's so. I do not mean to write with a common pen of steel or gold; nor on just common paper of rags or wood-pulp. But I do mean--He means--that you shall write with the pen of your daily life. And that you shall write on the paper of the lives of those you're touching and living with every day.
Clearly, He meant, and He means, that you and I shall live such simple unselfish lovable Jesus-touched lives, in just the daily commonplace round of life, that those we live with shall know the whole story of Jesus' love and life; His love burned out for us till there were no ashes, and His life poured out for us till not a red drop was left unspilled.
Are you writing your gospel? Is your life spelling out this simple wondrous God-story? I can find out, though, of course, I shall not. What I mean is this,--the crowd knows. The folks that touch you every day, they know. This old Bible was never printed so much as to-day, nor issued more numerously. And--thoughtfully--it was never read less by the common crowd on the common street of life than to-day.
That doesn't mean that the crowd doesn't read what it supposes to be religious literature. It does. I wish we church folk read our religious literature as faithfully as this crowd I speak of reads its. It is reading the gospel according to you, and reading it daily, and closely, and faithfully, and remembering what it reads, and being shaped by it.
This Bible I have here is bound in--I think it is called sealskin. I tried to get the best wearing binding I could. But I've discovered that there's a better binding than this. The best binding for the Gospel is shoe-leather. The old Gospel of the Son of God is at its best as it is being tramped out on the common street of life. Its truths stand out clearest as they're walked out. Its love comes warmest, its power is most resistless as it comes to you in the common give-and-take of daily touch in home and shop and street. Are you writing your copy of the Gospel?
You know that sometimes scholars have found some precious manuscripts in old monasteries. They have gone into some old, grey, stone monkery in the Near East, and they have run across old manuscripts hidden away in some dark cell, covered with dust and with rubbish, perhaps. With much tact and diplomacy they have at length managed to get possession of the coveted manuscript. And they have been fairly delighted to find that they have gotten hold of a remnant, a very precious remnant, of one of these Gospels. In just this way much invaluable light has been gotten that made possible these precious revised versions.
I wonder if your gospel--the one you're writing with your life--is just a remnant, a ragged remnant. And perhaps there's a good bit of dusting necessary, and removing of rubbish, to get even at what there is there. And some of the shy hungry hearts that touch you and me need to use quite a bit of unconscious diplomacy perhaps to get even as much as they do. I wonder. The crowd knows. It could throw a good bit of light here. How much of this old Jesus-story are you really living!
Of course, there's a special touch of inspiration in these four Gospels. The Holy Spirit brooded over these men in a special way as they wrote. That is true. These are the standard Gospels. We would never know the blessed story but for these four Spirit-breathed little books. But it is also true that that same Holy Spirit will guide you in the writing of your version of the Gospel.
These four Gospels are different from each other. The colouring of Luke's warm personality, and of his physician habit of thought is in his Gospel very plainly. And so it is with each one of these Gospels. And, even so, there will be the colouring of your personality, your habit of thought, the distinct tinge of the experience you have been through, in the gospel you write with the pen of your life, and bind up in the shoe-leather of your daily round.
But through all of this there will be the simple, subtle, but very real, atmosphere of the Holy Spirit, helping you make the story plain and full, and helping people to understand that story as it is lived, as they never can simply by hearing it told with tongues or read through eyes.
Are you writing your gospel? Is your daily life spelling out the life and love of Jesus, that life that was poured out till none was left, that love that was burned out till even the ashes were burned up, too? This is the Master's plan. And practically it is the crowd's only chance.
God in Human Garb.
Now I want to have you turn with me to the opening lines of John's Gospel. There are not many of these opening lines. The whole story is a short one. These lines at the beginning are like an etching, there are the fewest touches of pen on paper, of black ink on white surface. But the few lines are put in so simply and skilfully that they make an exquisite picture. It's the picture of God coming in human garb as a wooing Lover.
I think it might be best perhaps if I might simply give you a sort of free reading of these opening lines, with a word of comment or illustration to try to make the meaning simpler. It will be a putting of John's words into the simple every-day colloquial speech that we English-speaking people use. John used very simple language in his own telling of the story in his mother-tongue. And it may help if we try to do the same.
You will quickly see how very simple this free translation will be. Yet, let me say, that though homely and simple it will be strictly accurate to what John is thinking and saying in his own native speech. I mean of course, so far as I can find out just what he is thinking and saying.
Let us turn then to John's Gospel, at its beginning. And it will help very much if we keep our Bibles open as we talk and read together.
Listen: in the beginning there was a wondrous One. He was the mind of God thinking out to man. He was the heart of God throbbing love out to man's heart. He was the face of God looking into man's face. He was the voice of God, soft and low, clear and distinct, speaking into man's ears. He was the hand of God, strong and tender, reaching down to take man by the hand and lead him back to the old trysting-place under the tree of life, down by the river of water of life.
He was the person of God wearing a human coat and human shoes, hand-pegged, walking in freely amongst us that we might get our tangled up ideas about God and ourselves and about life untangled, straightened out. He was God Himself wrapped up in human form coming close that we might get acquainted with Him all over again.
This is part of the meaning of the little five-lettered word in his own tongue that John chooses and uses, at the first here, as a new name for Him who was commonly called Jesus. It was because of our ears that he used the new word. If he had said "Jesus" at once, they would have said "Oh! yes, we know about Him." And at once their ears would have gone shut to the thing that John is saying.
For they didn't know. And we don't. We know words. The thing, the real thing, we know so little. So John uses a new word at the first, and so floods in new light. And then we come to see whom he is talking about. It's a bit of the diplomacy of God so as to get in through dulled ears and truth-hardened minds down in to the heart.
Nature always seems eager to meet a defect. It seems to hurry eagerly forward to overcome defects and difficulties. The blind man has more acute hearing and a more delicate sense of feel. The deaf man's eyes grow quicker to watch faces and movements and so learn what his ears fail to tell him. The lame man leans more on other muscles, and they answer with greater strength to meet the defect of the weaker muscles.
The bat has shunned the light so long through so many bat-generations that it has become blind, but it has remarkable ears, and nature has grown for it an abnormal sense of touch, and a peculiar sensitiveness even where there is no contact, so that it avoids obstacles in flying with a skill that seems uncanny, incredulous.
I remember in Cincinnati one night, sitting on the platform of a public meeting by the side of a widely known Christian worker and speaker who was blind. As various men spoke he quietly made brief comments to me,--" He doesn't strike fire." And then, "He doesn't touch them." And then, "Ah! he's got them; that's it; now they're burning." And it was exactly so as he said. I sat fascinated as I watched the crowd and heard his comments. The sense of discerning what was going on in another way than by sight had been grown in him by the very necessity of his blindness. Defect in one sense was overcome by nature, by increase in another sense.
When Queen Victoria was in residence in Scotland at Balmoral it was her kindly custom to present the various clergymen who preached in the Castle chapel with a photograph marked with her autograph. When George Matheson, the famous blind preacher, came she showed the fine thoughtful tact for which she was famous. Clearly an autographed photograph would not mean much in itself to a blind man. So the Queen had a miniature bust-statue made and presented to him as her acknowledgment of his service. And so where his eyes failed to let him see, his sense of touch would carry to his mind and heart the fine features of the gracious sovereign he was so glad to serve.
Jesus was God coming in such a way that we could know Him by the feel. We had gone blind to His face. We couldn't read His signature plainly autographed by His own hand on the blue above and the brown below. But when Jesus came men knew God by the feel. They didn't understand Jesus. But the sore hungry crowds reached out groping trembling fingers, and they knew Him. They began to get acquainted with their gracious Sovereign.
All this gives the simple clue to this word "Word" which John uses as a new name for Jesus. Man had grown deaf to the music of God's voice, blind to the beauty of His face, slow-hearted to the pleading of His presence. His hand was touching us but we didn't feel it. So He came in a new way, in a very homely close-up way and walked down our street into our own doors that we might be caught by the beauty of His face, and thrilled by the music of His voice, and thralled by the spell of His presence.
God at His Best.
John goes on: and this wondrous One was with God. There were two of them. And the two were together. They were companions, they were friends, fellows together. And this One was God. Each was the same as the other. This is the same One who was in the later creative beginning with God. It was through this One that all things were made. And, of all things that have been made, not any thing was made without Him.
You remember that John's Gospel and Genesis begin in the same way,--"in the beginning." But John's "in the beginning," the first one, is not the same as the Genesis "in the beginning." John's is the beginning before there was any beginning. It is the beginning before they had begun making calendars on the earth, because there wasn't any earth yet to make calendars on. Then this second time the phrase is used John comes to the later creative beginning with which Genesis opens. This is what John is saying here.
"In Him was life." Out of Him came life. Out of Him comes life. There was no life, there is none, except what was in this One, and what came, and comes out from Him all the time. How patient God is! There walks a man down the street. He leaves God out of his life. He may remember Him so far as to use His name blasphemously to punctuate and emphasize what he is saying. Yonder walks a woman in the shadow of the street at night. And her whole life is spent walking in the dark shadow of the street of life. And her whole life is a blasphemy against her personality, and against the God who gave her that precious sacred personality.
Take these two as extreme illustrations. There is life there; life of the body, of the mind, life of the human spirit. Listen softly, all the life there is there, is coming out all the time from this One of whom John is talking. It is not given once as a thing to be taken and stored. It is being given. It is coming constantly with each breath, from this wondrous One. This is what John is saying here.
How patient God is! Only we don't know what patience is. We know the word, the label put on the outside. We don't know the thing, except sometimes in very smallest part. For patience is love at its best. Patience is God at His strongest and tenderest and best.
I think likely when we get up yonder, we'll stop one another on the golden streets. There'll be a hand put out, gripping the other hard. And we'll look into each other's eyes with our eyes big. And we'll say with breaking voices, "How patient God was with us down there on the earth, down there in London and New York."
In Him was life. Out of His hand and heart is coming to us all the time all we are and all we have. We may leave God practically out. So many of us do. But He never leaves us out. The creating, sustaining touch of His Hand is ever upon each of us, upon all the world.
Though He cannot do all for us He would except as we gladly come and let Him. What He is giving us is so much. It's our all. Yet it is the smaller part. There's the fuller part. This is the whole drive of John's story, this fuller part. Out of Him Jesus, into us will come the newer, the better, the abundant quality of life, if He may have His way.
And John adds,--"and the life was the light of men." He was what we have. He gives Himself; not things, but a person. With God everything is personal. We men go to the impersonal so much, or we try to. We do our best at it. We have a great genius for organization, especially in this western half of the earth.
As I came back from a four years' absence from my own country, I was instantly conscious of a change. Either my ears were changed or things about me were. I think likely both. But the wheels were going faster than ever. There were more wheels, and their whir seemed never out of ear-shot. Commercial wheels, and educational, philanthropic and religious, political and humanitarian, thicker and faster than ever, driving all day, and with almost no night there.
And the whole attempt is to make the machine do the thing with as little dependence as possible on the human element, even though the human element was never emphasized more. Contradictory? Yet there it is. We men go to the impersonal. Yet deep down in our hearts we hunger for the human touch, the warm personal touch. This after all is the thing. We all feel that. Yet the whole crowding of life's action is to crowd it out.
But with God everything is personal. The life is the light of men. What He is in Himself--that is what He gives. And this is all the light and life we ever have. Men make botany. God makes flowers breathing their freshening fragrance noiselessly up into your face. Man makes astronomy. God makes the stars, shaking their firelight out of the blue down into your wondering eyes on a clear moonless night. Man makes theology. And theology has its place, when it's kept in its place. God gives us Jesus.
I don't know much about botany. My knowledge of astronomy is very limited. And the more I read of theology, whether Western or Eastern, Latin Church or Greek, the first Seven Councils or the later ones, the more I stand perplexed. It's a thing fearsomely and wonderfully manufactured, this theology. But I frankly confess to a great fondness for flowers, and for stars, and a love for Jesus that deepens ever more in reverential awe and in tenderness and grateful devotion. The life was the light of men. He Himself is all that we have. We go to things. We reckon worth and wealth by things. He gives Himself. And He asks, not things, but one's self.
Packing Most in Least.
And John goes quietly on with his great simple story: "and the light shineth in the darkness," John has a way of packing much in little. Here he packs four thousand years into three English letters. For he has been back in that creative Genesis week. And now with one long stride he puts his foot down in the days when Jesus walks among us as a man. Forty centuries, by the common reckoning, packed into three letters e-t-h. Rather a skilful bit of packing that. Yet it is not unusual. It is characteristic both of John and of the One that guides John's pen. When He is allowed to have free sway the Holy Spirit packs much in little.
That rugged old Hebrew prophet of fire and storm, Elijah, standing in the grey dawn, in the mouth of an Arabian cave, had the whole of a new God--a God of tender gentle love--packed into an exquisite sound of gentle stillness, that smote so subtly on his ear, and completely melted and changed this man of rock and thunder. It's a new man that turns his face north again. The new God that had compacted Himself anew inside the ruggedly faithful old man is revealed in the prophet's successor. This is the new spirit, so unlike the old Elijah, that comes as a birth-right heritage upon young Elisha. Great packing work that.
That fine-grained young university fellow on the Damascus road, driving hard in pursuit of his earnest purpose, had the whole of a God, a new God to him, packed into a single flash of blinding light out of the upper blue. He had the whole of a new plan, an utterly changed plan for his life, packed into a single sentence spoken into his amazed ears as he lies in the dust.
And if this Holy Spirit may have His way--a big if? Yes: yet not too big to be gotten rid of at once: God puts in the if's, that we may get the strength of choosing. We put them out, if we do. If He may have His way He'll pack--listen quietly, with your heart--He'll pack the whole of a Jesus inside you and me. Much in little! Most in least! And the more we let Him in, the bigger that "most" prints itself to our eyes, and the more that "least" dwindles down to the disappearing point.
God gives us His own self in Jesus. Jesus comes to live inside of us. He doesn't give us things, but Himself. We talk about salvation. There's something better--a Saviour. We talk about help in trouble. There's something immensely more--a Friend, alongside, close up. We talk about healing--sometimes, not so much these days; the subject is so much confused. There's something much better--a Healer, living within, whose presence means healing and health for body and spirit.
Then John says, "the light shineth in the darkness." This is God's way of treating darkness. There are two ways of treating darkness, man's and God's. Man's way is to attack the darkness. Suppose this hall where we are were quite dark, all shuttered up, and suppose we were new on the earth, and not familiar with darkness. We want to hold a meeting. But how shall we get rid of this strange darkness that has come down over everything? Let's each of us get a bucket or pail or basin, and take some of the darkness out. So we'll get rid of it, and its inconvenience.
And if the suggestion were made seriously there might be talk of putting the suggestor in a certain sort of institution for the safety of the community. Yet this is the way we go at the other darkness, the worse moral darkness.
God's way is quite different; indeed just the exact reverse let the light shine. The darkness can't stand the light. If the hall were quite dark, and I scratched only a parlour-match, instantly as the little flame broke out of the end of the stick some of the darkness would go. It's surprising how much would go, and how quickly. The darkness can't stand the light. It flees like a hunted hare before a pack of hounds.
There may be times when action must betaken by a community against certain forms of evil, so damnable, and so strongly entrenched, and so threatening to the purity of home and young and of all. But note keenly that this is incidental. It is immensely important at times, but it is distinctly secondary. The great simple plan of God is this: let the light shine. The darkness flees like a whipped cur, tail tightly curled down and in, before the real thing of light.
Let me ask you a question. Come up a bit closer and listen quietly, for this is tremendously serious. And it's the quietest spoken word that reaches the inner cockles of the heart. Listen: is it a bit dark down where you live? Morally dark? Spiritually? How about that? in commercial circles and social and fraternal, in church and home and city and neighbourhood. Is it a bit dark? Or, have I found the Garden of Eden at last before the serpent entered?
Because if it be a bit dark, softly, please, let me say it very quietly, for it may sound critical, and I would not have that for anything. We are talking only to help. Though sometimes the truth itself does have a merciless edge. If it be a bit dark does it not suggest that the light has not been shining as it was meant to? For where the light shines the darkness goes.
For, you see, this is still God's plan for treating darkness. It is meant to be true to-day of each of us,--"the light shineth in the darkness." Of course, we are not the light. He is the Light. But we are the light-holders. I carry the Light of the world around inside of me. And so do you, if you do. It is not because of the "me," of course, but because of the great patience and faithfulness of Him who is the Light. A very rickety cheap lantern may carry a clear light, and the man in the ditch find good footing in the road again.
You and I are meant to be the human lanterns carrying the Light, and letting it shine clearly fully out. And you know when some one else is providing the light the chief thing about the lantern is that the glass of the lantern be kept dean and clear so the light within can get freely out. The great thing is that we shall live clean transparent lives so the Light within may shine clearly out. We may live unselfish clean Christly lives, by His great grace. And through that kind of lives, the Light itself shines out, and shines out most, and most clearly.
Over at the mouth of the Hudson, where I call it home, there are some strange things seen. Sometimes the glass of this human lantern gets smoky, badly smoked. And sometimes it even gets cobwebby, rather thickly covered up. And even this has been known to happen up there,--it'll seem very strange to you people doubtless--this; they write finely phrased essays on the delicate shading of grey in the smoke on the glass of the human lantern.
They meet together and listen to essays, in rarely polished English, on the exquisite lace-like tracery of the cobwebs on the glass of the human lantern. But look! Hold your heart still and look! There's the crowd in the road in the dark, struggling, jostling, stumbling, and falling into the ditch at the side of the road, ditched and badly mired, because the light hasn't gotten to them. The Light's there. It's burning itself out in passionate eagerness to help. But the human lanterns are in bad shape.
"Rhetoric!" do you say? I wish it were. I wish with my heart it were. Look at the crowds for yourself. There they go down the street, pell-mell, bewildered, blinded, some of them by will-o'-the-wisp lights, ditched and mired many of them. The thing is only too terribly true.
Our Lord's great plan, bearing the stamp of its divinity in its sheer human simplicity, is this: we who know Jesus are to live Him. We're to let the whole of a Jesus, crucified, risen, living, shine out of the whole of our lives.
Is it a bit dark down where you are? Let the Light shine. Let the clear sweet steady Jesus-light shine out through your true clean quiet Jesus-swayed and Jesus-controlled life. Then the darkness must go. It can't stand the Light. It can't withstand the purity and insistence of its clear steady shining. And the darkness will go: slowly, reluctantly, angrily, doggedly, making hideous growling noises sometimes, raising the dust sometimes, but it will go. It must go before the Light. The Light's resistless. This is our Lord's wondrous plan through His own, and His irresistible plan for the crowd, and His plan against the prince of darkness.
The Heart-road to the Head.
Then John goes on to say, "the darkness apprehended it not." The old common version says "comprehended"; the revisions, both English and American, say "apprehended." Both are rather large words, larger in English than John would use. John loved to use simple talk. Yet there's help even in these English words. Comprehend is a mental word. It means to take hold of with your mind; to understand. Apprehend is a physical word. It means to take hold of with your hand.
You can't comprehend Jesus. That is just the simple plain fact. You may have a fine mind. It may be well schooled and trained. You may have dug into all the books on the subject, English and German and the few French. You may have spent a lifetime at it. But at the end there is immensely more of Jesus that you don't understand than the part that you do understand. You've touched the smaller part only, just the edges. You cannot take Jesus in with your mind simply. The one is too big and the other too limited for that particular process.
But, listen with your heart, you can apprehend Him. You can take hold of Him. There isn't one of us here, however poorly equipped mentally and in training, and too busy with life's common duties to get much time for reading, not one of us, who may not reach out your hand, the hand of your heart, the hand of your life, the hand of your simple childlike trust--if you're great enough in simplicity to be childlike, to be natural, not one of us, but may reach out the hand and take in all there is of Jesus.
And the striking thing to mark is this, that we don't really begin to comprehend until we apprehend. Only as we take Him into heart and life can we really understand. It's as if the heat in the heart made by His presence there loosens up the grey juices of your brain, and it begins to work freely and clearly.
Of course, this is a commonplace in the educational world. It is well understood there that no student does his best work, no matter what that work may be, in science or philosophy or in mathematics or in laboratorial research, his mind cannot do its best, or be at its best, until his heart has been kindled by some noble passion. The key to the life is in the heart, that is the emotions and purposes tied together. The approach to the mind is through the heart. The fire of pure emotion and of noble purpose burning together, works out through the mind into the life. This is nature's order.
But what John is saying here, put into as simple language as he would use, is this: "the darkness wouldn't let the light in, and couldn't shut it out, and couldn't dull the brightness of its shining." It tried. It tried first at Bethlehem. The first spilling of blood came there. There was the shedding of blood at both ends of Jesus' career, and innocent blood each time. It tried at the Nazareth precipice, and in the spirit-racking wilderness. It tried by stones, then in Gethsemane, then at Calvary.
And there it seemed to have succeeded. At last the light was shut in and down; the door was shut and barred and bolted. And I suppose there was great glee in the headquarters of darkness. But the Third Morning came. And the bars of darkness were broken, as a woman breaks the sewing-cotton at the end of the seam. The Light could not be held down by darkness. It broke out more brightly than ever. The darkness couldn't shut the light out. And it can't.
Let the light shine. Let it shine out through the clear clean glass of an unselfish, Jesus-cleansed Jesus-fired life lived for Him in the commonplace round, and the shut-away corner. And the darkness will go. The darkness cannot shut out the light, nor keep it down, nor resist the gentle resistless power of its soft clear flooding. Let the Light shine down in that corner where you are. And the darkness, darkness that can be felt, and is felt so sorely deep down in your spirit, in its uncanny Egyptian blackness, that darkness will break, and more, clear, and go, go, go, till it's clear gone.
And so ends John's first great paragraph. It is so tremendous in its simplicity that, Greek-like, men stumble over its simple tremendousness. Away back in the beginning God revealed Himself in making a home for man, and in bringing the man, made in His own image, to his home. And then when the damp unwholesome darkness came stealing in swamping the home and man He came Himself, flooding in the soft clear pure light of His presence, to free man from the darkness and woo him out into the light.
Tarshish or Nineveh?
Then John goes on into his second paragraph. "There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John." Why? Because man was in the dark. He sent a man to help a man. He used a man to reach a man. He always does. Run clear through this old Book of God, and then clear through that other Book of God--the book of life, and note that this is God's habit. He, Himself, uses the path He had made for human feet. With greatest reverence let it be said that God must use a human pathway for His feet.
Even when He would redeem a world He came, He must needs come, as a Man, one of ourselves. He touches men through men. The pathway of His helping feet is always a common human pathway. And, will you mark keenly that the highest level any life ever reaches, or can reach, is this: to be a pathway for the feet of a wooing winning God.
And this is still true. It is meant to be true to-day that there came a man, sent from God, whose name is--your name. You put in your own name in that sentence, then you get God's plan for you. For as surely as this particular John of the desert and of the plain living, and the burning speech, was sent by God, so surely is every man of us a man sent by God on some particular errand. And the greatest achievement of life is to find and fit into the plan of God for one's life. This is the only great thing one can do. Anything else is merely labelled "great." And that label washes off. This is the one thing worth while.
The bother is we don't always get the verbs, the action words, of that sentence straight. John was a man sent from God. And he came. All men are sent But they don't all come, some go; go their own way. There was a man sent from God whose name was Jonah. But he didn't come. He went. He was sent to Nineveh on the extreme east. He went towards Tarshish on the extreme west; just the opposite direction. Every man is headed either for Nineveh or Tarshish, God's way or his own. Which way are you headed?
Some of us go to Tarshish religiously. We go our own way, and sing hymns and pray, to make it seem right and keep from hearing the inner voice. We hold meetings at the boat-wharf, while waiting for the Tarshish ship to lift anchor. We have services in the steerage and second-class and distribute tracts and New Testaments; but all the time we're headed for Tarshish; our way, not God's. It won't do simply to do good. We must do God's will. Find that and fit into it.
The meetings and tracts are only good but they ought to be on the train to Nineveh, and in Nineveh where God's sent you. Are you berthed on the boat for Tarshish? or have you a seat engaged on the train for Nineveh? going your own way? or God's? John was sent and he came. You and I are sent. Are we coming or going? coming God's way? or, going our own?
This true-hearted burning man of the deserts came for a witness. Here we strike one of John's great words. You remember the three things that witness means? that you know something; that you tell what you know; and that you tell it most with your life. And telling it with your life means, not only by the way you live, but, too, even though the telling of it may cost you your life. It came to mean all of that with this witness.
It came to mean that with a new fullness of meaning, a peculiar significance, to the great Witness, of whom John told. This was the very throbbing heart of the wooing errand. This explains the tenderness and tenacity of the Lover in His wooing in the midst of intensest opposition, and in spite of it.
The opposition brought about the terrific grouping of circumstances which the great Lover-witness used as the tremendous climax of both wooing and witnessing. No one doubts the reality of Jesus' witness to the Father's love before men. And no one, who has had any touch at all with Him, doubts the tremendous pull upon one's heart of such a wooing appeal as that Calvary climax of witnessing made, and makes.
And this, mark it keenly, is still the plan. "The-same-came-for-witness" is meant to be true of each follower of the Christ. This is to be the dominant underchording of all our lives. This is to be the never-absent motive gripping us, and our possessions and our plans. The rest is incidental in a true life.
It may be a "rest" that takes most of the waking hours with most of us, most of our strength and thought. But there's an undercurrent in every life. And the undercurrent is the controlling current. It makes us what we really are. It may be quite different from the upper current controlled by the outer necessities of circumstances. And with the true Jesus-man this is the undercurrent, this thing of witnessing.
Do you know something of Jesus? Do you know the cleansing of His blood? Do you know the music of His peace in your heart? Do you know a bit of the subtle fragrance of His presence? Do you know the power of His Name when temptations come, when the road gets slippery, and your feet go out from under you--almost. Then His Name, its power, and you hold steady. Do you know something about such things?
Then tell it. This is the plan--telling. It's a Gospel of telling. Tell it with your lips tactfully, gently, boldly, earnestly. But tell it far more, and most with your life. Let what you are, when you're not thinking about this sort of thing, let that tell it. That's the greatest telling, the best.
And, softly, now, when you get to the end of telling what you know, listen quietly, don't go to digging into books for something to tell your class or the meeting or the crowd. Don't do that. Books have their place, good books, but it's always a sharply secondary place, or third, or lower down yet. Poor crowd that must be fed on retailed books worked over! Don't do that. Know more. Know Jesus better. Trust Him more fully. Risk more on following where He clearly leads. Then you can tell more and better.
Sometimes I'm asked, "How can I have more faith?" Well, not by thinking about your faith. Not by books or definitions chiefly, however they may help some. I can tell you how: Follow where the Master's quiet voice is clearly calling. Go where it is plain to you that that pierced hand is leading.
"Ah! but the way is a bit narrow," you think. "And it's steep. There are sharp-edged stones under foot. And those bushes are growing rank on both sides narrowing the path. And thorns scratch and hurt and sting. This other road where I am now--this is a good Christian road. My Christian brothers are here. I'd rather stay here."
And so you stay. You don't say "no" to the calling voice. You simply act "no." No wonder you get confused and tangled. It's only in the path of following clear leading that there comes sweetest peace, with no nagging doubts and mental confusion. There only will you have more faith, know more of Him, touch with whom is the realest faith. And so only will the witness be told out to the crowd on the street of your life, of the power and satisfying peace of this Jesus.
This is the witnessing we're sent to do. And the crowds crowd to listen, when it's given. This is the way the Witness did. He followed the clear Father-voice, though the road led straight across the regular roads through thorn hedges and thick underbrush. Should not the servant tread it still?
The word that John uses here underneath our English word witness is the word from which our English word martyr comes. And martyr has come to mean one who gives his life clear out in a violent way for the truth he believes. But, do you know, that is easy. "Easy?" You say, "Surely not, you're certainly wrong there." No, you are right. It is not easy. To face a storm of lead, or feel the sharp-edged blade, or yield to the eating flame,--that is never easy.
But this is what I mean. There's the heroic in it, and that helps. You brace yourself for it. The terrible crisis comes. You pull together and pray and resolutely, desperately, face it. A little while, and it's over. You've been true in the sharp crisis. You have taken a place with the noble army of martyrs. And we who hear of it have a martyr's halo about your head.
But there's something immensely harder to do. Without making a whit less than it is the splendid courage of martyrdom, there's something that takes immensely more courage, and a deeper longer-seasoned heroism, and that is to be a living martyr, to bear the simple true witness tactfully but clearly, when it takes the very life of your life to do it, though it doesn't take your bodily life in a violent way.
You know they don't martyr people these days for their Christian faith. At least not in the western half of the earth, the Christian hemisphere. No, that's quite behind the calendar. That's rather crude, quite behind the cultured advanced Christian progress of our day. Our Christian civilization has gone long strides beyond that. We have grown much more refined. Now we kill them socially. Many a one who would live true to the Jesus-ideals in daily life in a simple sane way finds certain social doors shut and carefully barred.
We kill them commercially now. The man who will quietly hew to the Jesus-line in business is quite apt to find his income reduced. The bulk of business shrinks. The thermometer is run down below the living point. We kill men by frost now. The blockade system is skilfully used; isolation and insulation from certain circles. We are much more refined.
The great need to-day is of living witnesses to the Christ in home, and social circle, in the street, and in the market-place.
"So he died for his faith; that is fine,
More than the most of us do.
But stay, can yon add to that line
That he lived for it, too?
"It's easy to die. Men have died
For a wish or a whim--
From bravado or passion or pride.
Was it hard for him?
"But to live: every day to live out
All the truth that he dreamt,
While his friends met his conduct with doubt,
And the world with contempt.
"Was it thus that he plodded ahead,
Never turning aside?
Then we'll talk of the life that he led"
Even more than the death that he died.