The Way, The Truth, And The Life
( Originally Published 1895 )
"I am the way, the truth, and the life : no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. "—John xiv. 6.
IT is said that the fishermen of Brittany are accustomed to utter this simple prayer when about to launch their boats on the deep : " Keep me, my God; my boat is so small and thy ocean is so wide." The conception of God which leads to such a prayer is exceedingly beautiful. And is it not an appropriate prayer for every one of us? When we think of the treacherous shoals that await the mariner on life's sea, of the hidden reefs and the blind passages that entrap the unwary voyager, surely it would not be inappropriate for any of us to pray daily, " Keep me, my God ; for my boat is so small and thy ocean is so wide."
This is a sublime declaration of the Lord Jesus Christ which we are to study to-night. Who but Christ could say, "1 am the way, the truth, and the life"? Christ is the way to God; he is the way to salvation; he is the way to forgiveness of sins ; he is the way into the Father's heart. How broad is the promise that anything we shall ask of the Father in his name shall be granted unto us. His name is the pass-word at the gate of mercy. His name will open the gates of heaven at last.
Christ is not only a way, but he is the way to our salvation. How this thought is intensified by the last sentence of our text : "No man cometh unto the Father, but by me." He is the only way of salvation.
It is related that some years since a clipper ship called the Duncan Dunbar, from England, arrived off the entrance to Port Jackson, in New South Wales. There is only one opening there from the sea. The ship had a valuable cargo and six hundred passengers. The captain had laid a heavy wager that he would put the ship inside "The Heads," in so many days. The last day had come; he must take her inside the harbor that very night, or the wager would be lost. The temptation was great. Peering through the mist by the aid of his glass, the captain discovered what appeared to be the deep, safe, though some-what narrow, entrance to one of the finest harbors in the world. He made for what he thought was the opening. There was, however, no such passage there. He was about two miles south of the real entrance, at a point on the coast where the high cliffs declined almost to the sea level, and where the depression of the cliffs has been appropriately named " The Dip." This the captain had mistaken for " The Heads." On came the gallant ship with her sails spread. The man on the outlook suddenly cried : " Breakers ahead ! breakers ahead !" But the warning cry was too late. In one brief hour the noble vessel had struck the rocks and was being dashed in pieces by the heavy waves that were breaking in mad violence upon the reef.
Up the rough, unhewn, rocky way, ever since known as "Jacob's Ladder," one solitary sailor climbed—the only one saved out of six hundred on the ill-fated ship, the sole survivor to look down upon that scene of awful wreck. He told the story as the morning dawned, and the telegraph flashed the dread news to Sydney and on to England, carrying grief to hundreds of homes.
How many such wrecks there are every day in the spiritual world ! Men are willing to gamble on their chances of eternal life. They take risk with immortal destiny. Oh, I pray that there may be none here to-night so reckless! Christ is the way, and the only way of salvation. Isaiah saw that this was to be the only way, and voices the declaration, " I, even I, am the Lord; and be-side me there is no Savior." And Peter declares, " Neither is there salvation in any other : for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved."
Some years ago there was a distinguished lawyer who had an only daughter, the light and joy of her father's life. The mother of this young girl was an earnest Christian woman. She had tried to teach her child that Jesus was the only way of salvation. But her husband was an infidel. He had told his daughter that she could get to heaven without the help of Jesus. This daughter loved and honored both her parents; but as her father told her of one way, and her mother of an-other way, she could not make up her mind which of these two ways was the right one. At the age of sixteen she was taken very ill. One day she said to her father with great earnestness : " Father, I am going to die. What must I do to be saved? My mother has taught me that the only way of salvation is in Jesus Christ. You have taught me that we can be saved without Jesus. Shall I take my mother's advice or yours?" The strong man was deeply moved. He went away to hide his emotion for a while, and then came back to the bedside of his daughter. He took her pale, thin hand in his, and said slowly, but solemnly : " My darling daughter, take your mother's way."
Thank God, Jesus is not only the way, but he is "the living way," and his presence in sympathy and love keeps the way from being lonely. A little girl was very ill. She asked : " Papa, does the doctor think I shall die?" With a very sad heart, her father said : " My darling, the doctor is afraid you cannot live." Then her pale face grew very sad. She thought about the dark grave, and her eyes filled with tears as she said : " Papa, the grave is very dark. Won't you go down with me into it?" With a bursting heart, her father told her he could not go with her, till the Lord called him. " Papa, won't you let mamma go with me?" It almost broke that father's heart to tell her that, much as her mother loved her, she could not go with her either. The poor child turned her face to the wall and wept. But she had been taught about Jesus as the Friend and Savior of sinners, so she poured out her little heart to him with a child's full faith, and he who said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not," put his arms about her and comforted her. Soon she turned again to her father with her face all lighted up with joy and said : " Papa, the grave is not dark now. Jesus will- go with me."
Jesus is the truth. And because he is the truth all humanity must finally come to his standard. Jesus Christ stands forever as an example of truth in manhood. When we look at him we know that love and not hatred is our true attitude toward our fellowmen; we know that reverence and worship is our attitude toward God. All creeds and all systems of truth are to be judged by their capacity to produce men and women like the Lord Jesus Christ. He reveals to us the truth about God. He was God manifest in the flesh. " He that hath seen me hath seen the Father," was his answer to Philip. When we are in doubt about what we ought to do and are anxious to find the truth, all we need to do is to ask, " What would Jesus do if he were in my place?"
All the truth necessary to salvation was incarnated in Jesus Christ. And whoever comes to the Lord Jesus in simplicity and humility falls naturally into his true relations to God and his fellowmen. Christ is a saving truth, and little fragments of his word have oftentimes been enough to save a soul. Just a little bit of conversation many times carries with it a word about Jesus, or a quotation of loving promise or invitation from his lips, that is the seed-kernel of eternal life in the listening soul. If I speak to anybody to-night who is perplexed about what is the truth, any one who says, "There are so many speculations, and so many theories, and so many churches, that I do not know which way to go," my answer to you is, Cease to speculate and worry about that, and just come to Jesus. You will find truth enough in him to save your soul. Begin at once to obey the Lord Jesus. He that doeth his will shall know of the doctrine, whether it be true or not. One ounce of obedience to the Lord Jesus will bring you into more saving relation to the truth than any amount of speculation.
Jesus is the life. He is the source of spiritual life in our hearts. When we are sinners against God, the Bible represents us as being "dead in trespasses and sins," but when we come in con-tact with the Lord Jesus Christ and open our hearts to his coming, we are aroused to newness of life. The life which is to be built up in us is to be like the life of the Lord Jesus. What a grand aim is this which is set before us ! Paul in his letter to the Philippians declared that the chief object of his life was to press forward until he had grasped perfectly the life of the Lord Jesus, until his aim and purpose were in complete harmony with the Lord Jesus. How much loftier is this than any aim which the world holds out to us ! How much nobility it adds to our lives when we have as the ideal of our living, day by day, that we are to become like the loving, noble, majestic Christ. The acceptance of such an ideal for our life will give a nobleness and a peace which nothing else can possibly give. As Dr. Maclaren beautifully says, how different all our estimates of the meaning and true nature of events would be, if we kept clearly before our minds that God's intention was not merely to make us happy and glad, or to make us sorrowful, but that through the happiness, through the sorrow, through the gift, through the withdrawal, through all the various experience of life, God's purpose is always one and the same, to mold us into the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ !
If any of you are living without any great purpose, and, indeed, are conscious that you are cramping your life and narrowing it by selfishness or sin, I want to urge upon you this noble appeal which is made to you in the Gospel, calling you out of your littleness, out of all low motives, out of every narrow and selfish plan and thought, to live a life inspired by the Lord Jesus and in fellowship and harmony with his. To such a life all things are great and splendid. Nothing is little or insignificant, but everything is clothed with the grandeur of the motive and the purpose which sustain and inspire the life.
The rector of a church in London was called to see a crossing-sweeper in his parish who was ill, not long ago. Asking him if any one had been to see him, to the astonishment of the clergyman the sweeper replied, " Yes ; Mr. Gladstone."
" Which Mr. Gladstone?" asked the minister.
" Mr. Gladstone," repeated the poor invalid. "But how came he to see you?"
"Well," answered the crossing-sweeper, "he al-ways had a nice word for me when he passed my crossing, and when I was not there he missed me. He asked my mate, who has taken my place, where I was, and when he heard I was ill, he asked for my address, and when he was told, he put it down on paper. So he called to see me."
" And what did he do?" asked the minister.
" Why, he read some Bible to-me and prayed."
To a man who, like Mr. Gladstone, is humbly living the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is as important and as interesting a thing to read God's Word to a street crossing-sweeper, and comfort his heart with precious sympathy, as it is to form a cabinet to govern the English Empire. O my friend, can you not see how it lifts you out of the mud and the mire of worldliness and sin, and brings you up to the mountain-top, where every-thing wakes new songs in your heart, when you are inspired to rise to fellowship and communion with Christ?
The Savior is calling you to him tonight. This very hour he is offering to be "the way, the truth, and the life" for you. All the blessed invitations of his Book are for you. Every "come unto me" in his wonderful life of mercy and love is for you tonight. Oh, if you could only realize that it is definitely and personally for you !
Some years ago an Italian journalist, an infidel, began to read the Bible purely as a matter of history to help him in his journalistic work, and his eye fell upon the Master's words, " Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden." He pushed it back with a smile of contempt, and said, "That's not for me." But nevertheless, after he had gone away, it hammered away in his head all day. And every once in a while the Savior seemed to stand before him, with pleading face and out-stretched hands, saying, "Come unto me." In that town there lived. a Florentine, a poor carpenter, who was in the habit of explaining the Gospel in his humble way. On the next day, when that heart-struggle was going on in this man, the carpenter came to his study on business. While he was waiting, he cast his eye on the open book lying neglècted in a corner, and, as if struck with astonishment, exclaimed, " Ah ! you read the Gospel !" The editor replied : " Yes, I read that passage yesterday"—and he pointed to " Come unto me"—" but as that invitation cannot be directed to me, I am not interested in it." The man lied, burying the tempest in his heart under a deluge of sarcasm and laughter. He even tried to make a joke of that very passage, saying, "You see that it cannot say to me, `Come,' because I am happy,, healthy, rich, therefore the call is not for me." " Indeed, it is for you," replied the carpenter; "it is precisely for you, because you in your prosperity do not know your own malady. Meditate well on this word `Come,' and on the words `heavy laden,' and you will see that it is precisely you whom Jesus calls."
These proved to be truly apostolic words, bringing to his senses the thoughtless, falsely happy man, who lied while laughing and who wished to escape from the impulses of his own conscience. The words of the carpenter, like a thunderbolt, shook to its foundation the whole edifice of vanity and self-love of this happy sinner, until it fell in a thousand pieces as a glass house under the demolishing hammer, and led by his humble friend he came to the Lord Jesus, conscious that he was heavy laden, and found in him "the way, the truth, and the life." Follow his example tonight !