Why Everybody Should Know the Life Of Christ
( Originally Published 1915 )
THERE HAVE been many famous men in this world, and every one wishes to know who they were and why they are called great. In almost every city in America may be seen a statue of George Washington, or Abraham Lincoln, or Benjamin Franklin, or General Lee, or General Grant. Whenever you see one of these statues, you ask—if you do not know already -who this man was and why his statue has been set up. In Canada, every house has on the wall a portrait of the great and good Queen Victoria, and when a child sees it he wishes to know something of her life and her greatness. You see pictures of a man standing on the deck of a ship, or going ashore under palm trees on an island, and are told that he is Christopher Columbus—and every child in America knows something of his story. Men like Napoleon Bonaparte, and Julius Caesar, and Alexander the Great, are written about, and talked about; and every child should know who these men were and why they are famous.
Did you ever think that there is one man who has been talked about, and written about, and sung about, more than any other man in all the world; and that man is Jesus? For one book telling of Washington, or Napoleon, or Columbus, there are hundreds of books telling of Jesus. Every year at least fifteen million copies of the Bible are printed and sent out into. the world, in every language spoken on this earth. Why does everybody wish to have a Bible in his house? It is because that book tells of Jesus. If the pages that tell of Jesus should be torn out of the Bible, few people would care to have it or to read it.
There are more portraits of Jesus Christ, painted and drawn and printed, than of any other man who has ever lived. Everybody knows the picture of Jesus as soon as he sees it, whether it be of the baby Jesus in his mother's arms, or the boy Jesus in the Temple, or the Saviour teaching, or dying upon the cross. You do not need to be told which one in any picture is Jesus—his face is so well known that you know it at once. No other face among all the men who have ever lived from Adam the first man down to today, is known to as many people as the face of Jesus. Then, too, look in the hymn books of the churches and the song books of the Sunday-schools, and see how many of the hymns and songs are in praise of Jesus Christ. You do not find songs in praise of Julius Caesar, nor of Christopher Columbus, nor even of George Washington. No one who gives it thought doubts that the most famous man in all the world is Jesus Christ; and because he is so famous and so great, every one should know something of his life.
Then, too, everybody likes to hear stories of wonderful things. Even though we know that they are not true stories, every one listens to fairy tales and the stories of the "Arabian Nights." But how often, when the story is ended, the child looks up to the story-teller's face and says, "Is it all true?" Now, the story of Jesus is full of wonders. You read of his turning water into wine when the guests at the feast needed it, of his touching the eyes of a blind man and giving him sight, of his speaking to the storm and bringing peace, of his walking upon the waters in another storm to help his friends in danger, and, most wonderful of all, of his coming out of his own tomb living, after he. had died. Wonderful indeed are the stories told of Jesus; and the greatest wonder is that they are all true. You would like to hear those stories, I am sure; and every child should know them and be able to tell them to others.
Let me give you another reason why every one should know the story of Jesus. He came to show us who God is, what God is to us, and how God feels toward us. Every one, even every child, thinks of God and in his heart wishes to know about God. How terribly some people have mistaken God! They have thought of him as an enemy, not as a friend. You can see in some countries images of a person with forty arms, and on every hand something to kill a man with—a sword, a spear, an arrow, a club, a cup of poison, or some other fearful thing—and that is the thought of God in that land: a mighty being who hates men! In old times, many people thought that their gods were pleased when men killed their own children and burned their bodies on an altar as an offering to God. God saw all over the earth that men had wrong and cruel thoughts of him; and he sent his Son Jesus Christ to teach men by his words, and to show men in his life what God is, how God feels toward us, and how we should feel toward God. If Jesus had done no more for us than to teach us the Lord's Prayer, beginning with the words "Our Father who art in heaven," he would have done enough to make us love him. He showed people that God is their Father, the Father of every one in all the world, and that as a Father we may call upon him, just as any child can go to his father for whatever he needs.
There was once an artist who was called upon to paint the portrait of a good man. But the man had died ten years before; the artist had never seen him, and there was no picture of him to be used as a copy. At first the artist did not know what to do. Then a thought occurred to him.
"Is there no one," he said, "who looks like this man, so that I can see him and know something of the man's face?"
"Why, yes," they answered. "He has left a son, a man grown, who looks exactly like his father."
The artist studied the face of the son, and from it painted a likeness of the father, whom he had never seen. No one has ever seen God, but if we would know, not his face, which we cannot know, but his nature, how kind, and loving, and helpful, and willing God is, we have only to think of Christ; and if we know Christ, the Son of God, we know God, his Father and our Father. For this reason, because in Jesus we may know God, everybody should know about Jesus.
But Jesus came to this world, not only to show us what God is, but to show us what we should be and how we should live. Whatever his work may be, every one needs a copy which he can look at and follow. The child who is learning to write must have a copy, so that he may know how to shape his letters. The boy or girl learning to draw has a copy or a model to guide him in his drawing. When a man is about to build a ship, he first makes a model and then shapes his great ship exactly like it. Perhaps you have heard the lines in Longfellow's poem, "The Building of the Ship."
"In the shipyard stood the Master, With the model of the vessel That should laugh at all disaster, And with wave and whirlwind wrestle."
Well, we are all builders. Each one of us, boy or girl, man or woman, is building for himself what no one else can build for him : his character, what he is to be, whether good or bad, whether wise or ignorant, whether noble or selfish. And in building up ourselves we need a model, one perfect man, on whom we can look and whose life we can copy. That model we can find in Jesus. He lived our life, and in living showed us how we should live. Even a little child may say, "Jesus was once a little child; and I will try my best to be just such a child as he was." A boy of twelve may think of Jesus as a boy and resolve to live as Jesus lived. The young man, working in a shop, or office, or in the field, may take Jesus the workingman for his pattern. When Jesus was on the earth, he said many times, and to different people, "Follow me!" He says it to every one of us. But if we are to follow Jesus and to be like him, the best man that ever lived, we must study him, must know about his life, must have every story of him in our mind and in our heart; and that is another reason why every one should know the story of Jesus.
It is now almost two thousand years since Jesus lived on the earth and walked among men. Since he came, the world has become a different world, just as far as they have heard the story of Jesus and have learned to follow him. People have become less selfish and more thoughtful of others, more willing to help others, more generous in giving to others. Think of all the homes for the poor, of all the hospitals for the sick, of all the places where little children are cared for, of the playgrounds, of the love shown at Christmas time, of ten thousand ways in which the world is better. And then remember that all these good things come from Jesus Christ and his love in the hearts of men. But for Jesus, this would have been a dark world. The proof of this is that these good things are to be seen only in the lands where Jesus is known and loved and followed. Look at the lands where Christ is unknown and you find them dark and sad. There is still much to be done to make this a perfect world. We see terrible wars, and the poor still suffering wrong, and many people still selfish and cruel to their fellow-men. What can we do to make this a better and a brighter world? We can do as Jesus did. It was said of him, "He went about doing good"; and that may be said of us if we will follow Christ. But to make this world good, we must know him who is its power for goodness; and that is another reason why every one should know the story of Jesus.
Let me name only one reason more why we should know the story of Jesus: through him we have what we need most of all—the forgiveness of our sins. Suppose that someone who watches us all the time should keep a list of every wrong-doing, of every fiery temper, of every angry word, of every blow struck, of every time that one of us failed to do what is right, of every time that one let pass a chance to do some good act to another —what a long list it would be! There is such a list kept. An eye that never sleeps sees every act, the eye of God; and he remembers all our deeds, and the things left undone which we ought to have done. Is there any way to have that list against us taken away, blotted out and forgotten? Yes, there is one who can take our sins away and make the black story of our life as white as snow. That one is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He can forgive our sins, as he forgave the sins of men while he was on the earth; and he longs to have us ask him for forgiveness. Should we not love him for this? And should we not wish to hear about him and to know all the tender story of his love?
These, then, are some of the reasons why we should all seek to know the story of Jesus: because he is the greatest and most famous man that ever lived; because his story is full of interest and full of wonders, and is true; because he came to show us how kind and loving God is, and how willing to have us call upon him; because his life shows us a pattern of what we may be and tells us how we may be like him; because Jesus has made and is still making the world better, and brighter, and happier, wherever he is known; and best of all, because through Jesus our Saviour our sins may be forgiven and taken away, and we may be pure and holy as Jesus was upon the earth.
With these thoughts and aims, this Story of Jesus has been written. May it help many, young and old, to know Jesus better, to love him more, and to follow him more closely!