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Nathanael Under The Fig Tree

( Originally Published 1895 )

"Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile ! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and saith unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God ; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."—John i. 47-51.

THIS is a chapter of "Beholds." Twice in it, once in the great congregation and once in conversation with his two friends, John the Baptist cried " Behold the Lamb of God !" and here in this paragraph we hear Jesus crying out on the appearance of Nathanael, " Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" It is very interesting to note that perhaps at no time in his life did Jesus speak so warmly of any man, in praise, if we except the one occasion when John's disciples came to him from prison, as he did of Nathanael. But he had known John a long time, and John was peculiarly the messenger to make ready for the coming of the Lord. This is the first time he had met Nathanael. He had not yet been introduced to him or exchanged words with him. Yet he is so full of appreciation of the good qualities which he perceives in him, that he exclaims in this glad, happy sentence to those who are standing about him.

I think it is surely worth while for us to notice how readily the Lord Jesus perceived what was good in people, for this was an illustration of one of the divine characteristics of his nature. He was always detecting veins of goodness in people that made them worth saving. The people of Jericho saw nothing but sin and meanness in Zaccheus. But underneath all the cheating and miserliness, Christ detected at once the slumbering manhood that was there. Other people saw in the Magdalen or in the woman at Samaria only sinful, outcast creatures. But Jesus saw there the golden vein of womanhood that could be dug out and redeemed. And so you may go through the life of Jesus, and one of the characteristics of the Savior that will comfort you most is that he is always looking for the good. As surely as a magnet detects the steel and draws it toward itself, Christ finds the good in a man or woman, and brings it to the surface. Oh, what a glorious thing it is to be always doing that ! Depend upon it, the opposite spirit, that is forever causing us to seek out, as if by intuition, the evil spots in our friend or neighbor, is born of some kindred rotten spot of. sin in our own hearts.

There is an old fable of a man, who for some crime or injustice was cursed with the power of seeing other human beings, not in their beauty of flesh and blood, but as skeletons, gaunt and grisly. Much of the sorrow of the world comes from the fact that too many of us have this miserable faculty, and go about stripping off every worthy charm and beauty with which men and women are clothed, trying to find and expose some ugly trait or passion underneath.

The story is told of two colored boys, between whom there was a feud, that they met one day in the street and began to quarrel. One of them became very abusive, and called the other a great many hard names. The other listened to him until his stock of vituperation was exhausted, and then said : "Is you done?" The first intimated that he had no more to say. The other replied : " All dem things you say I is, you's dem." The boy perhaps did not understand the philosophy of his words, but, consciously or unconsciously, he was uncovering a great moral law. No man will use words of hatred and revenge who has not the rotten spot of hatred or revenge in his own heart. No man's eye will be alert and suspicious to detect evil in his fellows and gloat over it in his meditation, unless there is the kindred spot of evil in his own soul which forms the dark lens through which he looks at others. The miserable gossip, and incipient slander, that often cause so much sorrow, and embitter so many homes, and not infrequently make the innocent and pure to suffer needless wrong, are born first of all in some restless and suspicious heart, that is restless and suspicious because it is itself consciously impure. When you are tempted to say hard things and bitter things about your fellow-men, remember the little colored boy's reply, " All dem things you say I is, you's dem." And let us remember that he who knew what was in man, who knew our humanity better than anybody else in the world, thought better of it than anybody else, and counted it worth giving his own life to ransom it. Your hope and mine rests in the fact that Jesus Christ, who knows us better than any one in the world, sees in us that which is worth saving. Let us take him at his word. If we are disheartened and discouraged about our own selves, let us consider and be encouraged by the thought that the Savior knows us better even than we know our-selves, and knows the latent possibilities for good in us which nobody else has ever discerned.

To a Jewish ear this was a peculiarly gratifying thing which Jesus said about Nathanael: " Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile." It carried an earnest Jew away back in their history to Jacob, as he was coming up fleeing away from Laban, and through God's mercy and grace was able to part in peace with his father-in-law, only to run seemingly into the jaws of death at the hands of his wronged and angry brother. t was at Jabbok ford, where, having made all the provision that his wisdom could conceive, he went out alone into the darkness to spend the night in prayer to God. We have sketched briefly in the scripture the story of what transpired that night. How -God came in the person of the angel and wrestled with him until the break of day; a pictorial way of telling us of a night of struggle which resulted in the perfect transformation of the character of one of the most interesting men in all the scripture narratives. Jacob's life before this had been selfish and tricky, full of deception and fraud. But in that night at Peniel he came face to face with God, his sins were revealed to him in a new light. His utter helplessness, and the failure of all his methods, and the evanescent character of those things in which he had trusted, left him with no other hope but God. And so as the morning came, wounded and limping and helpless, he threw his arms about the neck of the mysterious antagonist, and as the angel cried, "Let me go! let me go!" he answered with all the earnestness and purpose of his soul, " I will not let thee go except thou bless me." And so at last he prevailed. His heart was all the Lord's, and in that great hour of victory the messenger of God said to him, " Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel : for as a prince hast thou power with God, and with men, and hast prevailed."

After recalling this vivid scene, it is easy to see how great the praise which Jesus bestowed upon Nathanael in the minds of those who were about him, when he said, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile." t was as if he had said : "Here is a man of prayer; a man who has waited for the consolation of Israel; a man who has studied the prophecies, and the Old Testament scriptures, with loving and earnest heart; a man who has, without guile, but with sincerity of purpose, sought every avenue of light that opened to him; a man, though he was prejudiced against Nazareth, yet when his friend Philip said, `Come and see,' held his prejudices in abeyance, and came with all his heart seeking the truth. And he, like Israel of old, has prevailed. Long he has been pleading with God that the Messiah might come. At last his prayer is answered. This is his Peniel, and he shall see God face to face. Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile." And how soon the sensitive soul of Nathanael detected the Lord. Scarcely more than a dozen words of conversation had passed before it is Nathanael's time to exclaim with glad and hearty reverence, " Rabbi, thou art the Son of God ; thou art the King of Israel!" O brothers and sisters, shall we not find our Peniel to-night? If there be any here who have been living lives of doubt and uncertainty, sometimes prayerful, and again trusting in ourselves, lives lacking the clear and joyous consciousness of the abiding presence of God with us, let us come to God to-night in earnest supplication. Let us draw near to him with faith. Let us come boldly to the throne of grace as he has invited us, and ask largely that our joys may be full. Let us twine our arms about his neck, and lie upon his breast. From full hearts let our cry go into his ear : " I will not let thee go except thou bless me. In prosperity and adversity, in life and in death, I will not let thee go, my delight, my joy, my glory, my everlasting salvation for time and for eternity ! No; for naught will I let thee go; sooner will I let go fame or success or money or pleasure, or my own life, than thee, without, whom life were death to me, and without whom heaven itself would be hell !"

Nathanael in this conversation with Jesus was greatly astonished that the Savior, seeing him standing apart under the fig tree, saw into his heart even then, and knew the secret thoughts of his soul. There is this solemn thought in our contemplation this evening, that Jesus not only perceives the good that is in us and rejoices over it, but he perceives the evil that is there. Every evil purpose we form in our inmost soul is perceived by him. Nothing is hid from his sight. This reminds us of that solemn scripture that says, " If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart."

Sir Robert Ball, the great astronomer, said recently in a lecture that the photographic eye has brought out millions of stars of whose very existence we were totally ignorant until the last few years. He also stated as one of the wonders of photography that a friend of his took a kodak view of the steamship " Great Eastern" when it was lying in the harbor at Liverpool. The hull of the ship was perfectly black, having been newly tarred; and yet, when the photographs were printed, the word " Lewis" was to be discerned on the side of the ship. The gentleman who had taken the photograph went back at once to see if he could detect any such word, for his memory was very distinct that nothing of the kind could be discerned when he took the picture; neither could he discover it on his second investigation. Being greatly astonished, he went to some of the officers of the " Great Eastern," who told him that the word had been inscribed in the place where his photograph indicated it, but they had afterward heavily tarred the ship, and it was entirely obliterated so far as the human eye could discern; but some of those searching rays which the photographic eye had been able to catch had reproduced it.

The distinguished astronomer also told of a photographer who had stated to him that, after a sitting by a beautiful young lady whom he had long wished to photograph, the artist found that the proof showed her face most strongly mottled; whereupon he repaired to her home to say he wished to try again, when he was informed that she was sick in bed with the measles. He had caught nothing with his eye that marred her beauty, but the keen, searching eye of the camera had caught the germs of the measles under her skin.

Oh, hear the solemn lesson ! One may cover up, it may be through all one's life, the hidden secret of sin in one's heart; it may be possible to deceive our neighbors, to deceive even our dearest friends, as to the wicked and evil desire or purpose of our souls. There may be nothing that their eye can detect to mar the moral beauty of our characters, but to that clear eye to whom the brightest sun-shine is but darkness, in his presence who reads our purposes as they are forming in our souls—it is all naked and open as the day to him. Instead of being discouraged and disheartened by this, let us rather be warned and inspired to forsake our sins, and open our hearts to the coming of him who is able to cleanse them and make them pure.

Let-us see in this lesson we are studying that Jesus comes into our lives with a message from the very home of the soul. As soon as Nathanael recognized in him the Messiah, hé cried out in glad assurance, as though he had found that which he had long been seeking, that which was the end of his seeking and the end of his very being, the one-who at once belonged to him and to whom he himself belonged : " Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel!" My dear friends, I bring Jesus to you to-night, not as some one foreign to your nature, but as the one who above all others deserves your love and your heart's supreme confidence. I bring you a message from home.

The story is told of a young man who went out from England to Australia as a gold-digger. He made money, and finally established a rude little store at a place called " The Ovens," a noted gold-field about two hundred miles from Melbourne. As soon as he was settled, he wrote home asking his parents to come out to live with him and to bring with them, if possible, an English skylark. The father died on the voyage, but the old mother and the lark arrived safely in Melbourne, and found their way at last to the store at " The Ovens."

The next morning the skylark was hung outside the rough hut, and at once began to sing. Unlike the Jews in Babylon, who hung their harps on the willows and could not sing "the Lord's song in a strange land," this little skylark began to sing his old native songs in the far-off Australia. The effect was wonderful. The sturdy gold-diggers paused in their work to listen; many curses from drunken lips were silenced by the little singer in his cage. Far and near the news of the "real. English skylark up at Wilstead's store" spread like lightning among the miners.

When Sunday morning came there was a sight such as had not been seen since the first gold has been discovered in that region. From every quarter, from hills and streams twenty miles away, came a throng of rough, brawny Englishmen, brushed and washed, to look as decent as possible. There had been no pre-arrangement, as was plain from the half-ashamed expression on every man's face as he saw his acquaintances. They had all come on the same errand—to hear the lark.

They were not disappointed, for the little minis-ter plumed his crest, and, lifting up his voice, sang them a sermon from his cage which touched the heart of every man in his congregation. As those brawny, and in many cases rough and wicked, men listened to the little singer, they were carried back again to their old English homes; father, mother, brothers and sisters, the old church where they used to worship, all the tender and hallowed associations of childhood and youth, came back to their hearts, and ministered to them that day. Thus they were made tender and thoughtful and reverent and brought closer to God.

Dear brothers and sisters, I bring you a message from home to-night. Some of you have wandered far away. Farther than Australia is from England, you have wandered in your thoughts and purposes, in your desires and in your deeds, in your affections, from the heart of your Heavenly Father. But to-night I bring you a message from home. Your Heavenly Father still loves you, loves you so much that he gave the Lord Jesus Christ to suffer and die on the cross to redeem you. Come, as Nathanael did, with reverence into his presence, casting aside your prejudice and everything that would detain you from the Mercy-seat. Come and open your heart to him, and I am sure that in your glad recognition of him as your Savior and your Redeemer, you will cry out with Nathanael, " Thou art the Son of God, thou art King forever over my soul!"

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