John, Christ, And Two Seekers
( Originally Published 1895 )
"John stood, and two of his disciples and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God I And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi (which is to say, being interpreted, Master), where dwellest thou? He saith unto them, Come and see."—John i. 35—39.
IN this suggestive incident we have portrayed before us very clearly the proper attitude of every Christian toward his own friends and the Savior. These men who were standing with John were his own personal disciples. How he had acquired an influence over them we do not know. Whether they had drifted with the crowd to hear him preach and had been impressed by that fiery zeal, that downright heart-earnestness, which every man that heard John must have felt, and had thus become his disciples; or whether they had become acquainted with him in some other way and had come to believe in his divine mission as the messenger of God to prepare the way for the Messiah, we do not know. The one thing we do know is that they were John's friends. They were men that believed in him and loved him and were glad to be taught of him. His word meant more to them, no doubt, than anybody else's word in the world. And when these three were standing talking together Jesus passed along, and John turned to them again and pointed to Christ and said to these two disciples, as he had said before to the multitude, "Behold the Lamb of God." When his friends heard him thus speak, they paid John the highest compliment it was possible for their friend-ship to pay him,—they immediately followed Christ.
That which impresses me most in the study of this incident is John's fidelity on every occasion to Jesus Christ. He never loses an opportunity to glorify the Savior or to influence any friend or any one whom his voice can reach, and persuade him to follow Christ. Brothers and sisters, that is, as we will all admit, the true attitude of every Christian man and woman in the world. And yet how many times we seem to lose sight of it. There have been times perhaps in the history of every Christian here present when you have been greatly concerned for the salvation of souls, when you knew of some one who was not a Christian over whom you had some influence, and you were full of prayer and earnest desire that you might speak the right word that would win that one to the Savior. Those were times of spiritual alertness, when your soul was sensitive to the presence of God, and it seemed easy for God to make known to you his desire. But at the present time, perhaps, there are many of you that do not feel that way. Now this does not intimate that you have not been a true disciple of Jesus in your purpose and that you are not now desiring to be a sincere Christian. But something has interfered, and that personal contact with the Lord Jesus Christ that made you once long to have a share in winning souls to him, and made it your very meat and drink to do his will in thus opening a way into men's hearts for him, you do not now enjoy. Oh, I pray God that it may come back to every one of us in greater and more blessed power than ever before!
I have been reading recently a great sermon by the late Canon Liddon, on the singular theme, " The Virtue of Elisha's Bones." Many of you remember the old story told in the second book of Kings, and also by Josephus, the Jewish historian, about the magnificent funeral of Elisha. He had been buried, doubtless in the old Jewish fashion, in a cave in the side of a perpendicular face of rock, the opening of which was closed by a heavy stone like that which closed the door to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where the Roman soldiers tried in vain to hold our Lord. Some time after Elisha's death, another funeral was being con-ducted near by, when the mourners saw in the distance a band of their enemies, an armed war party of Moabites. They wished to put the body for safety into the nearest hiding-place before this band of plunderers came upon them. It may have been accident or it may have been design, but it was probably because it was the nearest tomb, and they were in a hurry, that caused them to thrust the dead man into the sepulcher of Elisha.
The Jews made no use of coffins. At the end of the tomb Elisha's bones lay wrapped up in the covering that had enveloped his body. " Then," we are told, " when the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet." As I read it over again this week and Liddon's great sermon, it seemed to me that there was a message in it that we needed. if so, may God help us to receive it! Times of darkness and deadness, of spiritual blindness, come sometimes, even to those who have been tried and faithful servants of Christ. They no longer believe, or hope, or love, as they did once. They no longer pray as they did. The daily prayer in their family, the everyday secret devotion, the prayerful spirit, does not possess them as in a former time. Conscience is left to take care of itself in a way which would have been impossible in times of more spiritual devotion and clearer vision. They do not think about God and the heavenly life. They do not meditate about the Lord Jesus and grow tender and tearful about it as was once so common. They do not read the Bible so much, and when they do read it, it is not so luminous with the Spirit of God as in earlier days. They do not attend church so regularly, and when they do not go there is not that spiritual hunger and thirst because of it that once made it such a sad loss to them to fail of regular attendance upon the house of God. The hope of heaven is not such an anchor to the soul as it was in those days. The hatred of sin, the fear of the judgment seat, and the awful doom of the lost soul, do not arouse the conscience as they did when the heart was throbbing in close communion with the heart of Jesus Christ.
Brother, does this picture the change that has been realized in your soul? Has a spiritual deadness come over you? Have mere phrases taken the place of deep convictions? Have the great, eternal realities—God and personal Christian experience, heaven and the immortal life—been crowded out of your affections by the things of the world? Is your spiritual life in a fair way to die outright; almost ready to be buried? If so, I pray God that his Holy Spirit shed abroad in our hearts in these meetings, and the coming back to these earnest, heart-searching meditations about the awfulness of sin, about the death of Jesus Christ for us, about the necessity of the forgiveness of sins and the new birth, may be like the thrusting of the dead man's body against the bones of Elisha, and may bring back again all the old spiritual life and arouse you to the enthusiasm and zeal of your first love. Some of you, when you were first converted, took great joy in personally seeking after souls and pointing them to the Lamb of God. And the Holy Spirit made you skilful in doing it. But your tongue seems to have lost its cunning in that work. Oh, that it may be revived again !
I cannot tell you how I long for the full influence and help of every member of this church and of every Christian who attends these meetings in pointing men and women to the Savior during these days. Do you remember the Bible story of that little chariot ride Jehu had with Jehonadab? It was in a troublous time, and revolution was in the air, and there was a spirit of suspicion abroad about everybody. Couriers were riding to and fro, and people were dreading the outcome. A new order of things seemed to be imminent. Captains of the army rode with their swords in their hands, and when one soldier met another, before he dared to trust him, he put to him the searching challenge : " Is thine heart right as my heart is?" t was a time like that, when every wide-awake, alert soul sniffed a tragedy in the air, that Jehu, driving with that furious haste which for more than twenty centuries has constituted a proverb, with his eyes flashing like lightning, and the bloody foam dripping from the bridles of his horses, came suddenly upon a figure the very opposite of his own, which stirred him very deeply. It was Jehonadab, a Rechabite priest, a stern mystic of the desert, a kind of John the Baptist himself, whose rough garments were a protest against the luxury and degeneracy of the times, and whose flowing beard over his broad chest spoke of the vows that were upon his soul. The stout arm of Jehu flung back his fiery steeds upon their haunches, and with eyes flashing on the face of the priest, like the snap of a whip, came the sharp challenge of his lips, "Is thine heart right, as my heart is right?" And as quick as a flash from the flint when the steel strikes it, comes the response : " it is." Over leans the soldier, as he exclaims, "Give me thy hand." And he lifts the prophet into the chariot beside him, and on through the dust they drive, soldier and prophet side by side.
A good, honest, blunt demand that was of Jehu. He had to have allies that he could trust. There comes a time in every man's life when he hears such a challenge in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. " If thy heart be right as my heart is right, give me thy hand." Every action of great importance requires this enthusiastic enlistment of the heart. And so, dear brothers and sisters, I look into the face of each of you anxiously these days, and ask, " Is thy heart right?" And if the response be, "t is," have I not a right to say in all frankness and assurance, for the sake of the love you bear Christ who redeemed you, for the sake of the sympathy you have for your fellow-men, for the sake of the brotherly love and fidelity which you owe to me, " Give me thy hand, with all the power of help there is in it"?
I know that I but dimly perceive myself the tremendous importance of the hour, the eternal destinies that hang on our devotion and fidelity; but God knows I feel it enough to almost break my heart, and I pray that he may put upon us every one a burden for souls that will inspire us to great sacrifices for his sake. The late Governor Geary, of Pennsylvania, was a good soldier in the rebellion, and he tells a story of one of the battles through which he passed. He went into-the battle with his son. He was a manly, brave young boy, and the father and mother loved him with all their hearts. The battle opened with terrible fury. The fatalities were very great, and the field was covered with dead and wounded horses and men. After a while they quit firing and took to the point of the bayonet. The governor says he had prayed to God for strength for that particular battle. And he went into it feeling that he had in his, own right arm the strength of ten giants. In the midst of a charge he turned around to his troops and shouted "Come on, boys !" and just then he stepped across a dead soldier ; he glanced at the face, and lo! it was his son. He saw at the first glance that he was dead, but he did not dare to stop for a minute, the crisis had come in the battle. So with his heart breaking, he just got down on his knees and threw his arms around him and gave him one kiss, and said "Good-by, dear," and sprang up and shouted " Come on, boys !" God give to us a consecration and a spirit of self-denial like that !
There is a farther thought in this scripture incident which we must not overlook, and that is the question of Jesus to those two men who start out to follow him: " What seek ye?" We may have any good thing that we will if we follow Christ. And what we receive will depend upon what we seek. Dr. Maclaren beautifully says that that question to these two disciples is like a blank check which he puts into their hands to fill up. It is the key of his treasure-house which he offers to us all, with the assurance that if we open it we shall find all that we need. And Paul, who had tested it a great deal, declared that we should find more than we could ask or think. Christ stands before us like some of those fountains which you may find in almost every drug store along the street, which pour out for all who come every variety of drink which they desire. Each man that goes with his empty cup gets it filled with that which he wishes. " What seek ye?" Wisdom? You shall find it. " What seek ye?" Truth? He will give you that. " What seek ye?" The par-don of your sins? " Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." "What seek ye?" Love, peace, self-control, victory over besetting sins, hope, an anodyne for your sorrows? You may find them all in Jesus Christ. Paul said to the timid souls in his time, and we may say it with a great deal more assurance after all these centuries, " My God shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
Oh, I wish I could make you know, who are not Christians, how gently and lovingly Christ receives those who come unto him. Don't put off your coming to him as if you dreaded it, as though it were a hard thing, and only to be done as a last resort. Oh, no! It is the most natural thing in the world that you should come to him, and repent of your sin, and give him all the love of your soul. See how tenderly he deals with these two men. He notices that they are following him, and he kindly inquires, " What seek ye?" t inspires their confidence and they say, " Master, where dwellest thou?" Then, with loving face, he says, " Come and see." Ah, he will be just as kind and merciful as that to you ! The hardest thing I ever attempt to do is to try to show men and women who do not know Christ how wonderfully tender. and kind he is. An affecting scene occurred once in the streets of Baltimore. Three little girls who were sisters were standing at a shop window full of toys, and the two who could see were trying to describe what they saw to the blind sister who was with them. They were exhausting their feeble powers of description to bring home to the mind of the little blind girl what they saw. But although she listened greedily, they could present only an imperfect representation. The gentleman who saw the circumstance said that it was extremely touching to hear them try to describe the collection of toys in the store, but they could not do it. My dear friend, that is just like trying to tell you about Jesus. You must come and see him, and behold him with your own eyes, and know his forgiving love in your own heart.
Let me tell you a story which I can vouch for as being absolutely true, illustrating how naturally and easily you may come to the Savior. In the summer of 1857 a student in a New England college, a very bright young man, was to have graduated with honors, but by some deviation from the rules of the school his record was impaired. His father, in his disappointment in his son, rebuked him in a way which angered the young man, and he vowed he would live at home no longer, and uttering abusive language he left the house. But his better nature soon reasserted itself, and he came back to the room he had so rudely left, and throwing his arms around his father's neck, said : " Father, I have done a very wicked thing. I am very sorry that I have abused you so. Can you forgive me? I shall never again do such a thing." The father's quick em-brace and tender words removed the agony of guilt from his broken heart, and there was never after that an unkind word between them. Several years passed away. The young man had gone to the front as a volunteer, and as colonel of his regiment - was wounded at Gettysburg, and on the sixteenth day afterward his father found him. Gangrene had followed the amputation of the right limb just below the knee, and had nearly reached the fatal death-mark. He was given up to die. There was no hope remaining. Life was nearly gone. The embrace he gave his father was feeble. His voice was that of one about to give up life. " Dear father, how glad I am to see you once more, but you must do the talking now. I am almost gone."
Returning from a short walk with the surgeon, the father was asked by the colonel,
" Have you been talking with the surgeon?" " Yes."
"What did he say about me?"
" He says you must die."
" How long does he think I can live?"
" Not more than four days, and you may go at any moment."
" Father, you must not let me die now. I am afraid to die. I am not prepared to die. If I must, do tell me how. I know you can, for I have heard you do it for others."
The father's heart was breaking, but this was no time or place for tears. There was work to be done, and done at once. There was no hesitation. Instantly the Holy Spirit said to the father, " Tell him of the school incident. That is what he wants; I have held it in reserve for this moment."
" My son, you feel guilty, do you not?"
Yes. That makes me afraid to die."
" You want to be forgiven, don't you?"
"Yes. Can I be?"
" Can I know it before I die?"
"Do make this so plain that I can get hold of it," and he raised his feeble arm and closed his hand as if to grasp it.
"Do you remember the school incident years ago?"
"Yes, very distinctly. I was thinking it all over a few days ago, as I thought of your coming."
" Do you remember how you came back into the house and, throwing your arms around my neck, asked me to forgive you?"
" What did I say to you?"
"You said, `I forgive you with all my heart,' and kissed me."
"Did you believe me?"
" Certainly. I never doubted your word." "Did that take away your sense of guilt?"
"All of it?"
"Were you happy at home after that?"
" Yes. t seemed to me more than ever before."
"This is just the thing for you to do now. Tell Jesus you are sorry you have abused him and ask him to forgive you just as simply and sincerely as you did me. He says he will forgive, and you must take his word for it, just as you did mine."
" Why, father, is that the way to become a Christian?"
" I don't know of any other."
" That is very simple and plain. I can get hold of that."
Very much exhausted by this effort, the colonel turned his head upon his pillow to rest. The father, having done all he could for his dying son, sank into a chair and gave way to a flow of tears, expecting soon to close his son's eyes in death. But that painful suspense did not last long. A change had taken place. A new life had come to that soul. Its first utterance changed the tears to joy.
"Father, you need not cry any more. I don't want you should. I want you should sing. t's all right with me now; I am happy; Jesus has forgiven me; I have told him how sorry I am that I have abused him so. He has forgiven me; I know he has, for he says he will, and I have taken his word for it just as I did yours. I am not afraid to die now; but I don't think I shall; I feel the stirring of a new life within me, and with it comes a feeling of new life in my blood. I want you to sing that good old hymn we used to sing when I was a boy, at family prayers :
" `When lean read my title clear, To mansions in the skies, I'll bid farewell to every fear, And wipe my weeping eyes.' "
Immediately the life-current which was rapidly ebbing away began to flow back; the pulse beating at the death-rate began to lessen, the eyes to brighten, the countenance to glow with new blood, the voice to sound more natural, the sadness to give place to cheerfulness and hope. The surgeon coming in, as was his custom every day, to watch the rapid progress of the dreaded gangrene, put his fingers upon the pulse, and said with great surprise : " Colonel, your pulse is wonderfully changed; you look better. What has happened?"
" Well," replied the colonel, " father has shown me how to be a Christian, and I have done it. I am better; I am going to get *ell."
And, sure enough, the new life in his heart some-how or other put new strength into his body, and he still lives a useful and noble Christian life.
I bring you his Savior tonight.