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‘Lovest Thou Me?’ by Alexander MacLaren

‘Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him. Feed My lambs.’ — John 21:15

Peter had already seen the risen Lord.  There had been that interview on Easter morning on which the seal of sacred secrecy was impressed; when, alone, the denier poured out his heart to his Lord and was taken to the heart that he had wounded.  Then there had been two interviews on the two successive Sundays in which the Apostle, in common with his brethren, had received, as one of the group, the Lord’s benediction, the Lord’s gift of the Spirit, and the Lord’s commission.

But something more was needed.  There had been public denial; there must be public confession.  If he had slipped again into the circle of the disciples with no special treatment or reference to his fall, it might have seemed a trivial fault to others, and even to himself.  And so, after that strange meal on the beach, we have this exquisitely beautiful and deeply instructive incident of the special treatment needed by the denier before he could be publicly reinstated in his office.

The meal seems to have passed in silence.  That awe which hung over the disciples in all their intercourse with Jesus during the forty days lay heavy on them, and they sat there, huddled round the fire, eating silently the meal which Christ had provided, no doubt gazing silently at the silent Lord.  What a tension of expectation there must have been as to how the oppressive silence was to be broken!  And how Peter’s heart must have throbbed and the others’ ears been pricked up, when it was broken by ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?’  We may listen with pricked-up ears too.  For we have here, in Christ’s treatment of the Apostle, a revelation of how He behaves to a soul conscious of its fault; and, in Peter’s demeanor, an illustration of how a soul, conscious of its fault, should behave to Him.

There are three stages here: the threefold question, the threefold answer and the threefold charge.  Let us look at these.

I. The threefold question. The reiteration in the interrogation did not express doubt as to the veracity of the answer nor dissatisfaction with its terms; but it did express, and was meant, I suppose, to suggest to Peter and to the others that the threefold denial needed to be obliterated by the threefold confession; and that every black mark that had been scored deep on the page by that denial needed to be covered over with the gilding or bright coloring of the triple acknowledgment.  And so Peter thrice having said, ‘I know Him not;’ Jesus with a gracious violence forced him to say thrice, ‘Thou knowest that I love Thee.’  The same intention to compel Peter to go back upon his past comes out in two things besides the triple form of the question.

The one is the designation by which he is addressed, ‘Simon, son of Jonas,’ which travels back, as it were, to the time before he was a disciple, and points a finger to his weak humanity before it had come under the influence of Jesus Christ.  ‘Simon, son of Jonas,’ was the name that he bore in the days before his discipleship. It was the name by which Jesus had addressed him, therefore, on that never-to-be-forgotten turning-point of his life when he was first brought to Him by his brother Andrew.  It was the name by which Jesus had addressed him at the very climax of his past life when, high up, he had been able to see far, and in answer to the Lord’s question, had rung out the confession: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!’  So the name by which Jesus addresses him now says to him in effect: ‘Remember thy human weakness; remember how you were drawn to Me; remember the high-water mark of thy discipleship, when I was plain before thee as the Son of God, and remembering all these, answer Me — lovest thou Me?’

The same intention to drive Peter back to the wholesome remembrance of a stained past is obvious in the first form of the question. Our Lord mercifully does not persist in giving to it that form in the second and third instances: ‘Lovest thou Me more than these?’  More than these, what?  I cannot for a moment believe that that question means something so trivial and irrelevant as ‘Lovest thou Me more than these nets and boats and the fishing?’  No; in accordance with the purpose that runs through the whole, of compelling Peter to retrospect, it says to him, ‘Do you remember what you said a dozen hours before you denied Me, “Though all should forsake Thee, yet will not I”?  Are you going to take that stand again?  Lovest thou Me more than these, that never discredited their boasting so shamefully?’

So, dear brethren! here we have Jesus Christ, in His treatment of this penitent and half-restored soul, forcing a man, with merciful compulsion, to look steadfastly and long at his past sin and to retrace step by step, shameful stage by shameful stage, the road by which he had departed so far.  Every foul place he is to stop and look at and think about.  Each detail he has to bring up before his mind.  Was it not cruel of Jesus thus to take Peter by the neck, as it were, and hold him right down, close to the foul things that he had done, and say to him, ‘Look! look! look ever! And answer, Lovest thou Me?’  No; it was not cruel; it was true kindness. Peter was never so abundantly and permanently penetrated by the sense of the sinfulness of his sin, as after he was sure, as he had been made sure in that great interview, that it was all forgiven.  So long as a man is disturbed by the dread of consequences, so long as he is doubtful as to his relation to the forgiving Love, he is not in a position beneficially and sanely to consider his evil in its moral quality only.  But when the conviction comes to a man, ‘God is pacified towards thee for all that thou hast done;’ and when he can look at his own evil without the smallest disturbance rising from slavish fear of issues, then he is in a position rightly to estimate its darkness and its depth.  And there can be no better discipline for us all than to remember our faults and penitently to travel back over the road of our sins, just because we are sure that God in Christ has forgotten them.  The beginning of Christ’s merciful treatment of the forgiven man is to compel him to remember, that he may learn and be ashamed.

And then there is another point here in this triple question.  How significant and beautiful it is that the only thing that Jesus Christ cares to ask about is the sinner’s love! We might have expected: ‘Simon, son of Jonas, are you sorry for what you did?  Simon, son of Jonas, will you promise never to do the like any more?’  No!  These things will come if the other thing is there.  ‘Lovest thou Me?’  Jesus Christ sues each of us, not for obedience primarily, not for repentance, not for vows, not for conduct, but for a heart; and that being given, all the rest will follow.  That is the distinguishing characteristic of Christian morality: that Jesus seeks first for the surrender of the affections, and believes, and is warranted in the belief, that if these are surrendered, all else will follow.  And love being given, loyalty and service and repentance and hatred of self-will and of self-seeking will follow in her train.  All the graces of human character which Christ seeks and is ready to impart, are, as it were, but the pages and ministers of the regal Love, who follow behind and swell the cortege of her servants.

Christ asks for love.  Surely that indicates the depth of His own!  In this commerce, He is satisfied with nothing less and can ask for nothing more; and He seeks for love because He is love and has given love.  Oh! to all hearts burdened, as all our hearts ought to be — unless the burden has been cast off in one way — by the consciousness of our own weakness and imperfection, surely, surely, it is a gospel that is contained in that one question addressed to a man who had gone far astray, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?’

Here, again, we have Jesus Christ, in His dealing with the penitent, willing to trust discredited professions. We think that one of the signs of our being wise people is that experience shall have taught us ‘once’ being ‘bit, twice’ to be ‘shy,’ and if a man has once deceived us by flaming professions and ice-cold acts, never to trust him any more.  We think that is ‘worldly wisdom’ and ‘the bitter fruit of earthly experience’ and ‘sharpness’ and ‘shrewdness’ and so forth.  Jesus Christ, even whilst reminding Peter by that ‘more than these,’ of his utterly hollow and unreliable boasting, shows Himself ready to accept once again the words of one whose inveracity He had proved.  ‘Charity hopeth all things, believeth all things,’ and Jesus Christ is ready to trust us when we say, ‘I love Thee,’ even though often in the past our professed love has been all disproved.

We have here, in this question, our Lord revealing Himself as willing to accept the imperfect love which a disciple can offer Him. Of course, many of you well know that there is a very remarkable play of expression here.  In the two first questions, the word which our Lord employs for ‘love’ is not the same as that which appears in Peter’s two first answers.  Christ asks for one kind of love; Peter proffers another.  I do not enter upon discussion as to the distinction between these two apparent synonyms.  The kind of love which Christ asks for is higher, nobler, less emotional and more associated with the whole mind and will.  It is the inferior kind, the more warm, more sensuous, more passionate and emotional, which Peter brings.  And then, in the third question, our Lord, as it were, surrenders and takes Peter’s own word, as if He had said, ‘Be it so!  You shrink from professing the higher kind; I will take the lower and I will educate and bring that up to the height that I desire you to stand at.’  Ah, brother! however stained and imperfect, however disproved by denials, however tainted by earthly associations, Jesus Christ will accept the poor stream of love – though it be but a trickle when it ought to be a torrent – which we can bring Him.

These are the lessons which it seems to me lie in this triple question.  I have dealt with them at the greater length because those which follow are largely dependent upon them.  But let me turn now briefly, in the second place, to —

II. The triple answer. ‘Yea, Lord! Thou knowest that I love Thee.’  Is not that beautiful, that the man who by Christ’s Resurrection (as the last of the answers shows) had been led to the loftiest conception of Christ’s omniscience and regarded Him as knowing the hearts of all men should, in the face of all that Jesus Christ knew about his denial and his sin, have dared to appeal to Christ’s own knowledge?  What a superb and all-conquering confidence in Christ’s depth of knowledge and forgivingness of knowledge that answer showed!  He felt that Jesus could look beneath the surface of his sin and see that below it there was, even in the midst of the denial, a heart that in its depths was true.  It is a tremendous piece of confident appeal to the deeper knowledge and therefore the larger love and more abundant forgiveness of the righteous Lord — ‘Thou knowest that I love Thee.’

Brethren! a Christian man ought to be sure of his love to Jesus Christ.  You do not study your conduct in order to infer from it your love to others.  You do not study your conduct in order to infer from it your love to your wife or your husband or your parents or your children or your friend.  Love is not a matter of inference; it is a matter of consciousness and intuition.  Whilst self-examination is needful for us all for many reasons, a Christian man ought to be as sure that he loves Jesus Christ as he is sure that he loves his dearest upon earth.

It used to be the fashion long ago — this generation has not depth enough to keep up the fashion — for Christian people to talk as if it were a point they longed to know, whether they loved Jesus Christ or not.  There is no reason why it should be a point we long to know.  You know all about your love to one another and you are sure about that.  Why are you not sure about your love to Jesus Christ?  ‘Oh! but,’ you say, ‘look at my sins and failures;’ and if Peter had looked only at his sins, do you not think that his words would have stuck in his throat?  He did look, but he looked in a very different way from that of trying to ascertain from his conduct whether he loved Jesus Christ or not.  Brethren, any sin is inconsistent with Christian love to Christ.  Thank God, we have no right to say of any sin that it is incompatible with that love!  More than that; a great, gross, flagrant, sudden fall like Peter’s is a great deal less inconsistent with love to Christ than are the continuously unworthy, worldly, selfish, Christ-forgetting lives of hosts of complacent professing Christians today.  White ants will eat up the carcass of a dead buffalo more quickly than a lion will.  To have denied Christ once, twice, thrice, in the space of an hour, and under strong temptation, is not half so bad as to call Him ‘Master’ and ‘Lord,’ and day by day, week in, week out, in works to deny Him.  The triple answer declares to us that in spite of a man’s sins, he ought to be conscious of his love and be ready to profess it when need is.

III. Lastly, we have here the triple commission. I do not dwell upon it at any length because in its original form it applies especially to the apostolic office.  But the general principles which underlie this threefold charge, to feed and to tend both ‘the sheep’ and ‘the lambs,’ may be put in a form that applies to each of us, and it is this — the best token of a Christian’s love to Jesus Christ is his service of man for Christ’s sake.  ‘Lovest thou Me?’  ‘Yea! Lord.’  Thou hast said: go and do, ‘Feed My lambs; feed My sheep.’  We need the profession of words; we need, as Peter himself enjoined at a subsequent time, to be ready to ‘give to every man that asketh us a reason of the hope’ and an acknowledgment of the love that is in us.  But if you want men to believe in your love, however Jesus Christ may know it, go and work in the Master’s vineyard.  The service of man is the garb of the love of God.  ‘He that loveth God will love his brother also.’  Do not confine that thought of service and feeding and tending to what we call evangelistic and religious work.  That is one of its forms, but it is only one of them.  Everything in which Christian men can serve their fellows is to be taken by them as their worship of their Lord and is taken by the world as the convincing proof of the reality of their love.

Love to Jesus Christ is the qualification for all such service.  If we are knit to Him by true affection, which is based upon our consciousness of our own falls and evils and our reception of His forgiving mercy, then we shall have the qualities that fit us and the impulse that drives us to serve and help our fellows.  I do not say — God forbid! — that there is no philanthropy apart from Christian faith, but I do say that, on the wide scale, and in the long run, they who are knit to Jesus Christ by love will be those who render the greatest help to all that are ‘afflicted in mind, body, or estate.’  The true basis and qualification for efficient service of our fellows is the utter surrender of our hearts to Him who is the Fountain of love and from whom comes all our power to live in the world, as the images and embodiments of the love which has saved us that we might help to save others.

Brethren! let us all ask ourselves Christ’s question to the denier.  Let us look our past evils full in the face, that we may learn to hate them and that we may learn more the width and the sweep of the power of His pardoning mercy.  God grant that we may all be able to say, ‘Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee!’

 

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Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost, Whose soever sins ye remit, there are remitted unto them; and whose soever sine ye retain, they are retained.’ —  John 20:21-23

The day of the Resurrection had been full of strange rumors and of growing excitement.  As evening fell, some of the disciples, at any rate, gathered together, probably in the upper room.  They were brave, for in spite of the Jews they dared to assemble; they were timid, for they barred themselves in ‘for fear of the Jews.’  No doubt in little groups they were eagerly discussing what had happened that day.  Fuel was added to the fire by the return of the two from Emmaus.  And then, at once, the buzz of conversation ceased, for ‘He Himself, with His human air,’ stood there in the midst, with the quiet greeting on His lips, which might have come from any casual stranger and minimized the separation that was now ending: ‘Peace be unto you!’ which remarkably supplement each other.  They deal with two different parts of it.

John begins where Luke ends.  The latter Evangelist dwells mainly on the disciples’ fears that it was some ghostly appearance that they saw and on the removal of these by the sight and perhaps the touch of the hands and the feet.  John says nothing of the terror, but Luke’s account explains John’s statement that ‘He showed them His hands and His side,’ and that, ‘Then were the disciples glad,’ the joy expelling the fear.  Luke’s account also, by dwelling on the first part of the interview, explains what else is unexplained in John’s narrative, viz. the repetition of the salutation, ‘Peace be unto you!’  Our Lord thereby marked off the previous portion of the conversation as being separate and a whole in itself.  Their doubts were dissipated and now something else was to begin.  They who were sure of the risen Lord and had had communion with Him were capable of receiving a deeper peace, and so ‘Jesus said to them again, Peace be unto you!’ and thereby inaugurated the second part of the interview.

Luke’s account also helps us in another and very important way.  John simply says that ‘the disciples were gathered together,’ and that might mean the Eleven only.  Luke is more specific, and tells us what is of prime importance for understanding the whole incident, that ‘the Eleven… and they that were with them’ were assembled.  This interview, the crown of the appearances on Easter Day, is marked as being an interview with the assembled body of disciples whom the Lord, having scattered their doubts and laid the deep benediction of His peace upon their hearts, then goes on to invest with a sacred mission, ‘As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you;’ to equip them with the needed power, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost;’ and to unfold to them the solemn issues of their work, ‘Whose sins ye remit they are remitted; and whose sins ye retain they are retained.’  The message of that Easter evening is for us all; and so I ask you to look at these three points.

I. The Christian Mission.

I have already said that the clear understanding of the persons to whom the words were spoken goes far to interpret the significance of the words.  Here we have at the very beginning, the great thought that every Christian man and woman is sent by Jesus.  The possession of what preceded this charge is the thing, and the only thing, that fits a man to receive it, and whoever possesses these is thereby dispatched into the world as being Christ’s envoy and representative.  And what are these preceding experiences?  The vision of the risen Christ, the touch of His hands, the peace that He breathed over believing souls, the gladness that sprang like a sunny fountain in the hearts that had been so dry and dark.  Those things constituted the disciples’ qualification for being sent and these things were themselves — even apart from the Master’s words — their sending out on their future life’s-work.  Thus, whoever — and thank God I am addressing many who come under the category! — whoever has seen the Lord has been in touch with Him, and has felt his heart filled with gladness is the recipient of this great commission.  There is no question here of the prerogative of a class, nor of the functions of an order; it is a question of the universal aspect of the Christian life in its relation to the Master who sends and the world into which it is sent.

We Nonconformists pride ourselves upon our freedom from what we call ‘sacerdotalism.’  Ay! and we Nonconformists are quite willing to assert our priesthood in opposition to the claims of a class and are as willing to forget it, should the question of the duties of the priest come into view. You do not believe in priests, but a great many of you believe that it is ministers that are ‘sent,’ and that you have no charge.  Officialism is the dry-rot of all the Churches and is found as rampant amongst democratic.  Nonconformists as amongst the more hierarchical communities.  Brethren! you are included in Christ’s words of sending on this errand, if you are included in this greeting of ‘Peace be unto you!’ ‘I send,’ not the clerical order, not the priest, but ‘you,’ because you have seen the Lord and been glad and heard the low whisper of His benediction creeping into your hearts.

Mark, too, how our Lord reveals much of Himself, as well as of our position when He thus speaks.  For He assumes here the royal tone and claims to possess as absolute authority over the lives and work of all Christian people as the Father exercised when He sent the Son.  But we must further ask ourselves the question, what is the parallel that our Lord here draws, not only between His action in sending us and the Father’s action in sending Him, but also between the attitude of the Son who was sent and of the disciples whom He sends?  And the answer is this — the work of Jesus Christ is continued by, prolonged in, and carried on henceforward through, the work that He lays upon His servants.  Mark the exact expression that our Lord here uses. ‘As My Father hath sent,’ that is a past action, continuing its consequences in the present.  It is not ‘as My Father did send once,’ but as ‘My Father hath sent,’ which means ‘is also at present sending,’ and continues to send.  Which being translated into less technical phraseology is just this, that we here have our Lord presenting to us the thought that, though in a new form, His work continues during the ages and is now being wrought through His servants.  What He does by another, He does by Himself.  We Christian men and women do not understand our function in the world unless we have realized this: ‘Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ,’ and His interests and His work are entrusted to our hands.

How shall the servants continue and carry on the work of the Master?  The chief way to do it is by proclaiming everywhere that finished work on which the world’s hopes depend.  But note, — ‘as My Father hath sent Me, so send I you,’ — then we are not only to carry on His work in the world, but if one might venture to say so, we are to reproduce His attitude towards God and the world.  He was sent to be ‘the Light of the world;’ and so are we.  He was sent to ‘seek and to save that which was lost;’ so are we.  He was sent not to do His own will, but the will of the Father that sent Him; so are we.  He took upon Himself with all cheerfulness the office to which He was appointed, and said, ‘My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work’; and that must be our voice too.  He was sent to pity, to look upon the multitudes with compassion, to carry to them the healing of His touch, and the sympathy of His heart; so must we.

We are the representatives of Jesus Christ, and if I might dare to use such a phrase, He is to be incarnated again in the hearts, and manifested again in the lives of His servants.  Many weak eyes that would be dazzled and hurt if they were to gaze on the sun, may look at the clouds cradled by its side and dyed with its luster and learn something of the radiance and the glory of the illuminating light from the illuminated vapor.  And thus, ‘as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.’  Now let us turn to

II. The Christian Equipment.

‘He breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost!’  The symbolical action reminds us of the Creation story, when into the nostrils was breathed ‘the breath of life, and man became a living soul.’  The symbol is but a symbol, but what it teaches us is that every Christian man who has passed through the experiences which make him Christ’s envoy receives the equipment of a new life and that that life is the gift of the risen Lord.  This Prometheus came from the dead with the spark of life guarded in His pierced hands, and He bestowed it upon us; for the Spirit of life, which is the Spirit of Christ, is granted to all Christian men.  Dear brethren! we have not lived up to the realities of our Christian confession, unless into our death has come, and there abides, this life derived from Jesus Himself, the communication of which goes along with all faith in Him.

But the gift which Jesus brought to that group of timid disciples in the upper room did not make superfluous the further gift on the day of Pentecost.  The communication of the divine Spirit to men runs parallel with, depends on, and follows, the revelation of divine truth, so the ascended Lord gave more of that life to the disciples, who had been made capable of more of it by the fact of beholding His ascension, than the risen Lord could give on that Easter Day.  But whilst thus there are measures and degrees, the life is given to every believer in correspondence with the clearness and the contents of his faith.

It is the power that will fit any of us for the work for which we are sent into the world.  If we are here to represent Jesus Christ, and if it is true of us that ‘as He is, so are we, in this world,’ that likeness can only come about by our receiving into our spirits a kindred life which will effloresce and manifest itself to men in kindred beauty of foliage and of fruit.  If we are to be ‘the lights of the world,’ our lamps must be fed with oil.  If we are to be Christ’s representatives, we must have Christ’s life in us.  Here, too, is the only source of strength and life to us Christian people, when we look at the difficulties of our task and measure our own feebleness against the work that lies before us.  I suppose no man has ever tried honestly to be what Christ wished him to be amidst his fellows, whether as preacher or teacher or guide in any fashion, who has not hundreds of times clasped his hands in all but despair, and said, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’  That is the temper into which the power will come.  The rivers run in the valleys and it is the lowly sense of our own unfitness for the task which yet presses upon us and imperatively demands to be done, that makes us capable of receiving that divine gift.

It is for lack of it that so much of so-called ‘Christian effort’ comes to nothing.  The priests may pile the wood upon the altar and compass it all day long with vain cries and nothing happens.  It is not till the fire comes down from heaven that sacrifice and altar and wood and water in the trench, are licked up and converted into fiery light.  So, dear brethren! it is because the Christian Church as a whole, and we as individual members of it, so imperfectly realize the ABC of our faith, our absolute dependence on the inbreathed life of Jesus Christ, to fit us for any of our work, that so much of our work is ploughing the sands, and so often we labor for vanity and spend our strength for nought.  What is the use of a mill full of spindles and looms until the fire-born impulse comes rushing through the pipes? Then they begin to move.

Let me remind you, too, that the words which our Lord here employs about these great gifts, when accurately examined, do lead us to the thought that we, even we, are not altogether passive in the reception of that gift.  For the expression, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost’ might, with more completeness of signification, be rendered, ‘take ye the Holy Ghost.’  True, the outstretched hand is nothing, unless the giving hand is stretched out too.  True, the open palm and the clutching fingers remain empty, unless the open palm above drops the gift.  But also true, things in the spiritual realm that are given have to be asked for, because asking opens the heart for their entrance.  True, that gift was given once for all, and continuously, but the appropriation and the continual possession of it largely depend upon ourselves.  There must be desire before there can be possession.  If a man does not take his pitcher to the fountain the pitcher remains empty, though the fountain never ceases to spring. There must be taking by patient waiting.  The old Friends had a lovely phrase when they spoke about ‘waiting for the springing of the life.’  If we hold out a tremulous hand and our cup is not kept steady, the falling water will not enter it and much will be spilt upon the ground.  Wait on the Lord and the life will rise like a tide in the heart.  There must be a taking by the faithful use of what we possess.  ‘To him that hath shall be given.’  There must be a taking by careful avoidance of what would hinder.  In the winter weather, the water supply sometimes fails in a house.  Why? Because there is a plug of ice in the service-pipe.  Some of us have a plug of ice and so the water has not come. ‘Take the Holy Spirit!’  Now, lastly, we have here

III. The Christian power over sin.

I am not going to enter upon controversy.  The words which close our Lord’s great charge here have been much misunderstood by being restricted.  It is eminently necessary to remember here that they were spoken to the whole community of Christian souls.  The harm that has been done by their restriction to the so-called priestly function of absolution has been, not only the monstrous claims which have been thereon founded, but quite as much the obscuration of the large effects that follow from the Christian discharge by all believers of the office of representing Jesus Christ.

We must interpret these words in harmony with the two preceding points, the Christian mission and the Christian equipment.  So interpreted, they lead us to a very plain thought which I may put thus.  This same Apostle tells us in his letter that ‘Jesus Christ was manifested to take away sin.’  His work in this world, which we are to continue, was ‘to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.’  We continue that work when, as we have all, if Christians, the right to do — we lift up our voices with triumphant confidence and call upon our brethren to ‘behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world!’  The proclamation has a twofold effect, according as it is received or rejected; to him who receives it his sins melt away, and the preacher of forgiveness through Christ has the right to say to his brother, ‘Thy sins are forgiven because thou believest on Him.’  The rejecter or the neglecter binds his sin upon himself by his rejection or neglect.  The same message is, as the Apostle puts it, ‘a savor of life unto life, or of death unto death.’  These words are the best commentary on this part of my text.  The same heat, as the old Fathers used to say, ‘softens wax’ and hardens clay.’ The message of the word will either couch a blind eye and let in the light, or draw another film of obscuration over the visual orb.

And so, Christian men and women have to feel that to them is entrusted a solemn message, that they walk in the world charged with a mighty power, that by the preaching of the Word, and by their own utterance of the forgiving mercy of the Lord Jesus, they may ‘remit’ or ‘retain’ not only the punishment of sin, but sin itself.  How tender, how diligent, how reverent, how — not bowed down, but — erect under the weight of our obligations, we should be, if we realized that solemn thought!

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Rejoicing in the Lord is our source of strength — I have already anticipated, fragmentarily, nearly all that I could have said here in a more systematic form.  All gladness has something to do with our efficiency; for it is the prerogative of man that his force comes from his mind, and not from his body.  That old song about a sad heart tiring in a mile, is as true in regard to the Gospel, and the works of Christian people, as in any other case.  If we have hearts full of light, and souls at rest in Christ, and the wealth and blessedness of a tranquil gladness lying there, and filling our being; work will be easy, endurance will be easy, sorrow will be bearable, trials will not be so very hard, and above all temptations we shall be lifted and set upon a rock.  If the soul is full, and full of joy, what side of it will be exposed to the assault of any temptation?  If the appeal be to fear, the gladness that is there is an answer.  If the appeal be to passion, desire, wish for pleasure of any sort, there is no need for any more — the heart is full. And so the gladness which rests in Christ will be a gladness which will fit us for all service and for all endurance, which will be unbroken by any sorrow, and, like the magic shield of the old legends, invisible, impenetrable, in its crystalline purity will stand before the tempted heart and will repel all the ‘fiery darts of the wicked.’

‘The joy of the Lord is your strength,’ my brother!  Nothing else is.  No vehement resolutions, no sense of his own sinfulness nor even contrite remembrance of past failures ever yet made a man strong.  It made him weak that he might become strong, and when it had done that it had done its work.  For strength, there must be hope, and for strength there must be joy.  If the arm is to smite with vigor, it must smite at the bidding of a calm and light heart. Christian work is of such a sort as that the most dangerous opponent to it is simple despondency and simple sorrow.  ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’

Well, then! there are two questions: How comes it that so much of the world’s joy is weakness and how comes it that so much of the world’s notion of religion is gloom and sadness?  Answer them for yourselves and remember: you are weak unless you are glad; you are not glad and strong unless your faith and hope are fixed in Christ, and unless you are working from and not towards the sense of pardon, from and not towards the conviction of acceptance with God!

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Zion’s Joy and God’s by Alexander MacLaren

“Sing, 0 daughter of Zion; shout, 0 Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, 0 daughter of Jerusalem…. He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing” — Zephaniah 3:14, 17

What a wonderful rush of exuberant gladness there is in these words!  The swift, short clauses, the triple invocation in the former verse, the triple promise in the latter, the heaped together synonyms, all help the impression.  The very words seem to dance with joy.  But more remarkable than this is the parallelism between the two verses.  Zion is called to rejoice in God because God rejoices in her.  She is to shout for joy and sing because God’s joy too has a voice and breaks out into singing.  For every throb of joy in man’s heart, there is a wave of gladness in God’s.  The notes of our praise are at once the echoes and the occasions of His.  We are to be glad because He is glad: He is glad because we are so.  We sing for joy, and He joys over us with singing because we do.

  1. I. God’s joy over Zion.

It is to be noticed that the former verse of our text is followed by the assurance: “The Lord is in the midst of thee;” and that the latter verse is preceded by the same assurance.  So, then, intimate fellowship and communion between God and Israel lies at the root both of God’s joy in man and man’s joy in God.

We are solemnly warned by “profound thinkers” of letting the shadow of our emotions fall upon God.  No doubt there is a real danger there; but there is a worse danger, that of conceiving of a God who has no life and heart; and it is better to hold fast by this – that in Him is that which corresponds to what in us is gladness. We are often told, too, that the Jehovah of the Old Testament is a stem and repellent God, and the religion of the Old Testament is gloomy and servile.  But such a misconception is hard to maintain in the face of such words as these.  Zephaniah, of whom we know little, and whose words are mainly forecasts of judgments and woes pronounced against Zion that was rebellious and polluted, ends his prophecy with these companion pictures, like a gleam of sunshine which often streams out at the close of a dark winter’s day.  To him the judgments which he prophesied were no contradiction of the love and gladness of God.  The thought of a glad God might be a very awful thought; such an insight as this prophet had gives a blessed meaning to it.  We may think of the joy that belongs to the divine nature as coming from the completeness of His being, which is raised far above all that makes of sorrow.  But it is not in Himself alone that He is glad; but it is because He loves.  The exercise of love is ever blessedness.  His joy is in self-impartation; His delights are in the sons of men: “As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.”  His gladness is in His children when they let Him love them and do not throw back His love on itself.  As in man’s physical frame it is pain to have secretions dammed up, so when God’s love is forced back upon itself and prevented from flowing out in blessing, some shadow of suffering cannot but pass across that calm sky.  He is glad when His face is mirrored in ours, and the rays from Him are reflected from us.

But there is another wonderfully bold and beautiful thought in this representation of the gladness of God.  Note the double form which it assumes: “He will rest”—literally, be silent—in His love; “He will joy over thee with singing.”  As to the former, loving hearts on earth know that the deepest love knows no utterance and can find none.  A heart full of love rests as having attained its desire and accomplished its purpose.  It keeps a perpetual Sabbath and is content to be silent.

But side by side with this picture of the repose of God’s joy is set with great poetic insight the precisely opposite image of a love which delights in expression and rejoices over its object with singing.  The combination of the two helps to express the depth and intensity of the one love, which like a song-bird rises with quivering delight and pours out as it rises an ever louder and more joyous note, and then drops, composed and still, to its nest upon the dewy ground.

  1. II. Zion’s joy in God.

To the Prophet, the fact that “the Lord is in the midst of thee” was the guarantee for the confident assurance “Thou shalt not fear any more;” and this assurance was to be the occasion of exuberant gladness, which ripples over in the very words of our first text.  That great thought of “God dwelling in the midst” is rightly a pain and a terror to rebellious wills and alienated hearts.  It needs some preparation of mind and spirit to be glad because God is near; and they who find their satisfaction in earthly sources, and those who seek for it in these, see no word of good news, but rather a “fearful looking for of judgment” in the thought that God is in their midst.  The word rendered “rejoices” in the first verse of our text is not the same as that so translated in the second.  The latter means literally, to move in a circle; while the former literally means, to leap for joy.  Thus the gladness of God is thought of as expressing itself in dignified, calm movements, whilst Zion’s joy is likened in its expression to the more violent movements of the dance.  True human joy is like God’s, in that He delights in us and we in Him, and in that both He and we delight in the exercise of love.  But we are never to forget that the differences are real as the resemblances, and that it is reserved for the higher form of our experiences in a future life to “enter into the joy of the Lord.”

It becomes us to see to it that our religion is a religion of joy.  Our text is an authoritative command as well as a joyful exhortation, and we do not fairly represent the facts of Christian faith if we do not “rejoice in the Lord always.”  In all the sadness and troubles which necessarily accompany us, as they do all men, we ought by the effort of faith to set the Lord always before us that we be not moved.  The secret of stable and perpetual joy still lies where Zephaniah found it—in the assurance that the Lord is with us, and in the vision of His love resting upon us, and rejoicing over us with singing.  If thus our love clasps His, and His joy finds its way into our hearts, it will remain with us that our “joy may be full;” and being guarded by Him whilst still there is fear of stumbling, He will set us at last “before the presence of His glory without blemish in exceeding joy.”

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One shrinks from touching this incomparable picture of unexampled sorrow, for fear lest one’s finger- marks should stain it.  There is no place here for picturesque description, which tries to mend the gospel stories by dressing them in today’s fashions.  We must put off our shoes, and feel that we stand on holy ground.  Though loving eyes saw something of Christ’s agony, He did not let them come beside Him, but withdrew into the shadow of the gnarled olives, as if even the moonbeams must not look too closely on the mystery of such grief.  We may go as near as love was allowed to go, but stop where it was stayed, while we reverently and adoringly listen to what the Evangelist tells us of that unspeakable hour.

I. Mark the “exceeding sorrow” of the Man of Sorrows.

Somewhere on the western foot of Olivet lay the garden, named from an oil-press formerly or then in it, which was to be the scene of the holiest and sorest sorrow on which the moon, that has seen so much misery, has ever looked.  Truly, it was “an oil-press,” in which “the good olive” was crushed by the grip of unparalleled agony, and yielded precious oil, which has been poured into many a wound since then.  Eight of the eleven are left at or near the entrance, while He passes deeper into the shadows with the three.  They had been witnesses of His prayers once before, on the slopes of Hermon, when He was transfigured before them.  They are now to see a no less wonderful revelation of His glory in His filial submission.

There is something remarkable in Matthew’s expression, “He began to be sorrowful,” — as if a sudden wave of emotion, breaking over His soul, had swept His human sensibilities before it.  The strange word translated by the Revisers “sore troubled” is of uncertain derivation, and may possibly be simply intended to intensify the idea of sorrow; but more probably it adds another element, which Bishop Lightfoot describes as “the confused, restless, half-distracted state which is produced by physical derangement or mental distress.”  A storm of agitation and bewilderment broke His calm, and forced from His patient lips, little wont to speak of His own emotions, or to seek for sympathy, the unutterably pathetic cry, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful” — compassed about with sorrow, as the word means — “even unto death.”  No feeble explanation of these words does justice to the abyss of woe into which they let us dimly look.  They tell the fact, that, a little more and the body would have sunk under the burden.  He knew the limits of human endurance, for “all things were made by Him,” and, knowing it, He saw that He had grazed the very edge.  Out of the darkness He reaches a hand to feel for the grasp of a friend, and piteously asks these humble lovers to stay beside Him, not that they could help Him to bear the weight, but that their presence had some solace in it.  His agony must be endured alone, therefore He bade them tarry there; but He desired to have them at hand, therefore He went but “a little forward.”  They could not bear it with Him, but they could “watch with” Him, and that poor comfort is all He asks.  No word came from them.

They were, no doubt, awed into silence, as the truest sympathy is used to be, in the presence of a great grief.  Is it permitted us to ask what were the fountains of these bitter floods that swept over Christ’s sinless soul?  Was the mere physical shrinking from death all?  If so, we may reverently say that many a maiden and old man, who drew all their fortitude from Jesus, have gone to stake or gibbet for His sake, with a calm which contrasts strangely with His agitation.  Gethsemane is robbed of its pathos and nobleness if that be all.  But it was not all.

Rather it was the least bitter of the components of the cup.  What lay before Him was not merely death, but the death which was to atone for a world’s sin, and in which, therefore, the whole weight of sin’s consequences was concentrated. “The Lord hath made to meet on Him the iniquities of us all;” that is the one sufficient explanation of this infinitely solemn and tender scene.  Unless we believe that, we shall find it hard to reconcile His agitation in Gethsemane with the perfection of His character as the captain of “the noble army of martyrs.”

II. Note the prayer of filial submission.

Matthew does not tell us of the sweat falling audibly and heavily, and sounding to the three like slow blood-drops from a wound, nor of the strengthening angel, but he gives us the prostrate form, and the threefold prayer, renewed as each moment of calm, won by it, was again broken in upon by a fresh wave of emotion.  Thrice He had to leave the disciples, and came back, a calm conqueror; and twice the enemy rallied and returned to the assault, and was at last driven finally from the field by the power of prayer and submission.  The three Synoptics differ in their report of our Lord’s words, but all mean the same thing in substance; and it is obvious that much more must have been spoken than they report.  Possibly what we have is only the fragments that reached the three before they fell asleep.  In any case, Jesus was absent from them on each occasion long enough to allow of their doing so.

Three elements are distinguishable in our Lord’s prayer.  There is, first, the sense of Sonship, which underlies all, and was never more clear than at that awful moment.  Then there is the recoil from “the cup,” which natural instinct could not but feel, though sinlessly.  The flesh shrank from the Cross, which else had been no suffering; and if no suffering, then had been no atonement.  His manhood would not have been like ours, nor His sorrows our pattern, if He had not thus drawn back, in His sensitive humanity, from the awful prospect now so near.  But natural instinct is one thing, and the controlling will another.  However currents may have tossed the vessel, the firm hand at the helm never suffered them to change her course.  The will, which in this prayer He seems so strangely to separate from the Father’s, even in the act of submission, was the will which wishes, not that which resolves.  His fixed purpose to die for the world’s sin never wavered.  The shrinking does not reach the point of absolutely and unconditionally asking that the cup might pass.  Even in the act of uttering the wish, it is limited by that “if it be possible,” which can only mean — possible, in view of the great purpose for which He came.  That is to be accomplished, at any cost; and unless it can be accomplished though the cup be withdrawn, He does not even wish, much less will, that it should be withdrawn.  So, the third element in the prayer is the utter resignation to the Father’s will, in which submission He found peace, as we do.

He prayed His way to perfect calm, which is ever the companion of perfect self-surrender to God.  They who cease from their own works do “enter into rest.”  All the agitations which had come storming in massed battalions against Him are defeated by it.  They have failed to shake His purpose; they now fail even to disturb His peace.  So, victorious from the dreadful conflict, and at leisure of heart to care for others, He can go back to the disciples.  But even whilst seeking to help them, a fresh wave of suffering breaks in on His calm, and once again He leaves them to renew the struggle.  The instinctive shrinking reasserts itself, and, though overcome, is not eradicated.  But the second prayer is yet more rooted in acquiescence than the first.  It shows that He had not lost what He had won by the former; for it, as it were, builds on that first supplication, and accepts as answer to its contingent petition the consciousness, accompanying the calm, that it was not possible for the cup to pass from Him.

The sense of Sonship underlies the complete resignation of the second prayer as of the first.  It has no wish but God’s will, and is the voluntary offering of Himself.  Here He is both Priest and Sacrifice, and offers the victim with this prayer of consecration.  So once more He triumphs, because once more, and yet more completely, He submits, and accepts the Cross.  For Him, as for us, the Cross accepted ceases to be a pain, and the cup is no more bitter when we are content to drink it.  Once more in fainter fashion the enemy came on, casting again his spent arrows, and beaten back by the same weapon.

The words were the same, because no others could have expressed more perfectly the submission which was the heart of His prayers and the condition of His victory.  Christ’s prayer, then, was not for the passing of the cup, but that the will of God might be done in and by Him, and “ He was heard in that He feared,” not by being exempted from the Cross, but by being strengthened through submission for submission.  So His agony is the pattern of all true prayer, which must ever deal with our wishes, as He did with His instinctive shrinking, — present them wrapped in an “ if it be possible,” and followed by a “nevertheless.”  The meaning of prayer is not to force our wills on God’s, but to bend our wills to His; and that prayer is really answered of which the issue is our calm readiness for all that He lays upon us.

III. Note the sad and gentle remonstrance with the drowsy three.

“The sleep of the disciples, and of these disciples, and of all three, and such an overpowering sleep, remains even after Luke’s explanation, ‘for sorrow,’ a psychological riddle” (Meyer). It is singularly parallel with the sleep of the same three at the Transfiguration — an event which presents the opposite pole of our Lord’s experiences, and yields so many antithetical parallels to Gethsemane.  No doubt the tension of emotion, which had lasted for many hours, had worn them out; but, if weariness had weighed down their eyelids, love should have kept them open.  Such sleep of such disciples may have been a riddle, but it was also a crime, and augured imperfect sympathy.  Gentle surprise and the pain of disappointed love are audible in the question, addressed to Peter especially, as he had promised so much, but meant for all.  This was all that Jesus got in answer to His yearning for sympathy.  “I looked for some to take pity, but there was none.”  Those who loved Him most lay curled in dead slumber within earshot of His prayers.  If ever a soul tasted the desolation of utter loneliness, that suppliant beneath the olives tasted it.  But how little of the pain escapes His lips!  The words but hint at the slightness of their task compared with His, at the brevity of the strain on their love, and at the companionship which ought to have made sleep impossible.  May we not see in Christ’s remonstrance a word for all?

For us, too, the task of keeping awake in the enchanted ground is light, measured against His, and the time is short, and we have Him to keep us company in the watch, and every motive of grateful love should make it easy; but, alas, how many of us sleep a drugged and heavy slumber!  The gentle remonstrance soon passes over into counsel as gentle.

Watchfulness and prayer are inseparable.  The one discerns dangers, the other arms against them.  Watchfulness keeps us prayerful, and prayerfulness keeps us watchful.  To watch without praying is presumption, to pray without watching is hypocrisy.  The eye that sees clearly the facts of life will turn upwards from its scanning of the snares and traps, and will not look in vain.  These two are the indispensable conditions of victorious encountering of temptation.  Fortified by them, we shall not “enter into” it, though we encounter it.  The outward trial will remain, but its power to lead us astray will vanish.  It will still be danger or sorrow, but it will not be temptation; and we shall pass through it, as a sunbeam through foul air, untainted, and keeping heaven’s radiance.  That is a lesson for a wider circle than the sleepy three.

It is followed by words which would need a volume to expound in all their depth and width of application, but which are primarily a reason for the preceding counsel, as well as a loving apology for the disciples’ sleep.  Christ is always glad to give us credit for even imperfect good; His eye, which sees deeper than ours, sees more lovingly, and is not hindered from marking the willing spirit by recognizing weak flesh.  But these words are not to be made a pillow for indolent acquiescence in the limitations which the flesh imposes on the spirit, tie may take merciful count of these, and so may we, in judging others, but it is fatal to plead them at the bar of our own consciences.  Rather they should be a spur to our watchfulness and to our prayer.  We need these because the flesh is weak, still more because, in its weakness toward good, it is strong to evil.  Such exercise will give governing power to the spirit, and enable it to impose its will on the reluctant flesh.   If we watch and pray, the conflict between these two elements in the renewed nature will tend to unity and peace by the supremacy of the spirit; if we do not, it will tend to cease by the unquestioned tyranny of the flesh.  In one or other direction our lives are tending.

Strange that such words had no effect.  But so it was, and so deep was the apostles’ sleep that Christ left them undisturbed the second time.  The relapse is worse than the original disease.  Sleep broken and resumed is more torpid and fatal than if it had not been interrupted.  We do not know how long it lasted, though the whole period in the garden must have been measured by hours; but at last it was broken by the enigmatical last words of our Lord.  The explanation of the direct opposition between the consecutive sentences, by taking the “ Sleep on now” as ironical, jars on one’s reverence.  Surely irony is out of keeping with the spirit of Christ then.  Rather He bids them sleep on, since the hour is come, in sad recognition that the need for their watchful sympathy is past, and with it the opportunity for their proved affection.  It is said with a tone of contemplative melancholy, and is almost equivalent to “too late, too late.”

The memorable sermon of F. W. Robertson, on this text, rightly grasps the spirit of the first clause, when it dwells with such power on the thought of “the irrevocable past” of wasted opportunities and neglected duty.  But the sudden transition to the sharp, short command and broken sentences of the last verse is to he accounted for by the sudden appearance of the flashing lights of the band led by Judas, somewhere near at hand, in the valley.  The mood of pensive reflection gives place to rapid decision.  He summons them to arise, not for flight, but that He may go out to meet the traitor.

Escape would have been easy.  There was time to reach some sheltering fold of the hill in the darkness; but the prayer beneath the silver-grey olives had not been in vain, and these last words in Gethsemane throb with the Son’s willingness to yield Himself up, and to empty to its dregs the cup which the Father had given Him.

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The Joy of the Lord by Alexander MacLaren

‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’ — Nehemiah 8:10

Judaism, in its formal and ceremonial aspect, was a religion of gladness.  The feast was the great act of worship.  It is not to be wondered at, that Christianity, the perfecting of that ancient system, has been less markedly felt to be a religion of joy; for it brings with it far deeper and more solemn views about man in his nature, condition, responsibilities, destinies, than ever prevailed before, under any system of worship.  And yet all deep religion ought to be joyful, and all strong religion assuredly will be so.

Here, in the incident before us, there has come a time in Nehemiah’s great enterprise, when the law, long forgotten, long broken by the captives, is now to be established again as the rule of the newly-founded commonwealth.  Naturally enough there comes a remembrance of many sins in the past history of the people; and tears not unnaturally mingle with the thankfulness that again they are a nation, having a divine worship and a divine law in their midst.  The leader of them, knowing for one thing that if the spirits of his people once began to flag, they could not face nor conquer the difficulties of their position, said to them, ‘This day is holy unto the Lord: this feast that we are keeping is a day of devout worship; therefore mourn not, nor weep: go your way; eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared; neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’  You will make nothing of it by indulgence in lamentation and in mourning.  You will have no more power for obedience; you will not be fit for your work, if you fall into a desponding state.  Be thankful and glad; and remember that the purest worship is the worship of God-fixed joy, ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength.’  And that is as true, brethren, with regard to us, as it ever was in these old times; and we, I think, need the lesson contained in this saying of Nehemiah’s, because of some prevalent tendencies amongst us, no less than these Jews did.  Take some simple thoughts suggested by this text which are both important in themselves and needful to be made emphatic because so often forgotten in the ordinary type of Christian character.  They are these: Religious Joy is the natural result of faith; it is a Christian duty; and it is an important element in Christian strength.

I. Joy in the Lord is the natural result of Christian Faith.

There is a natural adaptation or provision in the Gospel, both by what it brings to us and by what it takes away from us, to make calm, and settled, and deep gladness, the prevalent temper of the Christian spirit.  In what it gives us, I say, and in what it takes away from us.  It gives us what we call well a sense of acceptance with God, it gives us God for the rest of our spirits, it gives us the communion with Him which in proportion as it is real, will be still, and in proportion as it is still, will be all bright and joyful.  It takes away from us the fear that lies before us, the strifes that lie within us, the desperate conflict that is waged between a man’s conscience and his inclinations, between his will and his passions, which tears the heart asunder, and always makes sorrow and tumult wherever it comes.  It takes away the sense of sin.  It gives us, instead of the torpid conscience, or the angrily-stinging conscience — a conscience all calm from its accusations, with all the sting drawn out of it: for quiet peace lies in the heart of the man that is trusting in the Lord.  The Gospel works joy, because the soul is at rest in God; joy, because every function of the spiritual nature has found now its haven and its object; joy, because health has come, and the healthy working of the body or of the spirit is itself a gladness; joy, because the dim future is painted (where it is painted at all) with shapes of light and beauty, and because the very vagueness of these is an element in the greatness of its revelation.  The joy that is in Christ is deep and abiding.  Faith in Him naturally works gladness.

I do not forget that, on the other side, it is equally true that the Christian faith has as marked and almost as strong an adaptation to produce a solemn sorrow — solemn, manly, noble, and strong.  ‘As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing’ is the rule of the Christian life.  If we think of what our faith does; of the light that it casts upon our condition, upon our nature, upon our responsibilities, upon our sins, and upon our destinies, we can easily see how, if gladness be one part of its operation, no less really and truly is sadness another.  Brethren, all great thoughts have a solemn quiet in them, which not infrequently merges into a still sorrow.  There is nothing more contemptible in itself, and there is no more sure mark of a trivial nature and a trivial round of occupations, than unshaded gladness, that rests on no deep foundations of quiet, patient grief; grief, because I know what I am and what I ought to be; grief, because I have learnt the ‘exceeding sinfulness of sin;’ grief, because, looking out upon the world, I see, as other men do not see, hell-fire burning at the back of the mirth and the laughter, and know what it is that men are hurrying to!  Do you remember who it was that stood by the side of the one poor dumb man,      whose tongue He was going to loose, and looking up to heaven, sighed before He could say, ‘Be opened?’  Do you remember that of Him it is said, ‘God hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows;’ and also, ‘a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’?  And do you not think that both these characteristics are to be repeated in the operations of His Gospel upon every heart that receives it?  And if, by the hopes it breathes into us, by the fears that it takes away from us, by the union with God that it accomplishes for us, by the fellowship that it implants in us, it indeed anoints us all ‘with the oil of gladness;’ yet, on the other hand, by the sense of mine own sin that it teaches me; by the conflict with weakness which it makes to be the law of my life; by the clear vision which it gives me of ‘the law of my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into subjection;’ by the intensity which it breathes into all my nature, and by the thoughts that it presents of what sin leads to, and what the world at present is, the Gospel, wheresoever it comes, will infuse a wise, valiant sadness as the very foundation of character.  Yes, joy, but sorrow too!  The joy of the Lord, but sorrow as we look on our own sin and the world’s woe! the head anointed with the oil of gladness, but also crowned with thorns!

These two are not contradictory.  These two states of mind, both of them the natural operations of any deep faith, may co-exist and blend into one another, so as that the gladness is sobered, and chastened, and made manly and noble; and that the sorrow is like some thundercloud, all streaked with bars of sunshine, that pierce into its deepest depths.  The joy lives in the midst of the sorrow; the sorrow springs from the same root as the gladness.  The two do not clash against each other, or reduce the emotion to a neutral indifference, but they blend into one another; just as, in the Arctic regions, deep down beneath the cold snow, with its white desolation and its barren death, you will find the budding of the early spring flowers and the fresh green grass; just as some kinds of fire burn below the water; just as, in the midst of the barren and undrinkable sea, there may be welling up some little fountain of fresh water that comes from a deeper depth than the great ocean around it, and pours its sweet streams along the surface of the salt waste.  Gladness, because I love, for love is gladness; gladness, because I trust, for trust is gladness; gladness, because I obey, for obedience is a meat that others know not of, and light comes when we do His will! But sorrow, because still I am wrestling with sin; sorrow, because still I have not perfect fellowship; sorrow, because mine eye, purified by my living with God, sees earth, and sin, and life, and death, and the generations of men, and the darkness beyond, in some measure as God sees them!  And yet, the sorrow is surface, and the joy is central; the sorrow springs from circumstance and the gladness from the essence of the thing; and therefore the sorrow is transitory, and the gladness is perennial.  For the Christian life is all like one of those sweet spring showers in early April, when the rain-drops weave for us a mist that hides the sunshine; and yet the hidden sun is in every sparkling drop, and they are all saturated and steeped in its light. ‘The joy of the Lord’ is the natural result and offspring of all Christian faith.

II. And now, secondly, the ‘joy of the Lord’ or rejoicing in God, is a matter of Christian duty.

It is a commandment here, and it is a command in the New Testament as well.  ‘Neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’  I need not quote to you the frequent repetitions of the same injunction which the Apostle Paul gives us, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice;’ ‘Rejoice evermore,’ and the like.  The fact that this joy is enjoined us suggests to us a thought or two, worth looking at.  You may say with truth, ‘My emotions of joy and sorrow are not under my own control: I cannot help being glad and sad as circumstances dictate.’

But yet here it lies a commandment.  It is a duty, a thing that the Apostle enjoins; in which, of course, is implied, that somehow or other it is to a large extent within one’s own power, and that even the indulgence in this emotion, and the degree to which a Christian life shall be a cheerful life, is dependent in a large measure on our own volitions, and stands on the same footing as our obedience to God’s other commandments.

We can to a very great extent control even our own emotions; but then, besides, we can do more than that.  It may be quite true, that you cannot help feeling sorrowful in the presence of sorrowful thoughts, and glad in the presence of thoughts that naturally kindle gladness.  But I will tell you what you can do or refrain from doing — you can either go and stand in the light, or you can go and stand in the shadow.  You can either fix your attention upon, and make the predominant subject of your religious contemplations, a truth which shall make you glad and strong, or a half-truth, which shall make you sorrowful, and therefore weak.  Your meditations may either center mainly upon your own selves, your faults and failings, and the like; or they may centre mainly upon God and His love, Christ and His grace, the Holy Spirit and His communion.  You may either fill your soul with joyful thoughts, or though a true Christian, a real, devout, God-accepted believer, you may be so misapprehending the nature of the Gospel, and your relation to it, its promises and precepts, its duties and predictions, as that the prevalent tinge and cast of your religion shall be solemn and almost gloomy, and not lighted up and irradiated with the felt sense of God’s presence — with the strong, healthy consciousness that you are a forgiven and justified man, and that you are going to be a glorified one.

And thus far (and it is a long way) by the selection or the rejection of the appropriate and proper subjects which shall make the main portion of our religious contemplation, and shall be the food of our devout thoughts, we can determine the complexion of our religious life.  Just as you inject coloring matter into the fibers of some anatomical preparation; so a Christian may, as it were, inject into all the veins of his religious character and life, either the bright tints of gladness or the dark ones of self-despondency; and the result will be according to the thing that he has put into them.  If your thoughts are chiefly occupied with God, and what He has done and is for you, then you will have peaceful joy.  If, on the other hand, they are bent ever on yourself and your own unbelief, then you will always be sad.  You can make your choice.  Christian men, the joy of the Lord is a duty.  It is so because, as we have seen, it is the natural effect of faith, because we can do much to regulate our emotions directly, and much more to determine them by determining what set of thoughts shall engage us.  A wise and strong faith is our duty.  To keep our emotional nature well under control of reason and will is our duty.  To lose thoughts of ourselves in God’s truth about Himself is our duty.  If we do these things, we cannot fail to have Christ’s joy remaining in us and making ours full.  If we have not that blessed possession abiding with us, which He lived and died to give us, there is something wrong in us somewhere.

It seems to me that this is a truth which we have great need, my friends, to lay to heart.  It is of no great consequence that we should practically confute the impotent old sneer about religion as being a gloomy thing.  One does not need to mind much what some people say on that matter.  The world would call ‘the joy of the Lord’ gloom, just as much as it calls ‘godly sorrow’ gloom.  But we are losing for ourselves a power and an energy of which we have no conception, unless we feel that joy is a duty, and unless we believe that not to be joyful in the Lord is, therefore, more than a misfortune, it is a fault.

I do not forget that the comparative absence of this happy, peaceful sense of acceptance, harmony, oneness with God, springs sometimes from temperament, and depends on our natural disposition.  Of course the natural character determines to a large extent the perspective of our conceptions of Christian truth, and the coloring of our inner religious life.  I do not mean to say, for a moment, that there is one uniform type to which all must be conformed, or they sin.  There is indeed one type, the perfect manhood of Jesus, but it is all comprehensive, and each variety of our fragmentary manhood finds its own perfecting, and not its transmutation to another fashion of man, in being conformed to Him.  Some of us are naturally fainthearted, timid, skeptical of any success, grave, melancholy, or hard to stir to any emotion.  To such there will be an added difficulty in making quiet confident joy any very familiar guest in their home or in their place of prayer.  But even such should remember that the ‘powers of the world to come,’ the energies of the Gospel, are given to us for the very express purpose of overcoming, as well as of hallowing, natural dispositions.  If it be our duty to rejoice in the Lord, it is no sufficient excuse to urge for not responding to the reiterated call, ‘I myself am disposed to sadness.’

Whilst making all allowances for the diversities of character, which will always operate to diversify the cast of the inner life in each individual, we think that, in the great majority of instances, there are two things, both faults, which have a great deal more to do with the absence of joy from much Christian experience, than any unfortunate natural tendency to the dark side of things.  The one is, an actual deficiency in the depth and reality of our faith; and the other is, a misapprehension of the position which we have a right to take and are bound to take.  There is an actual deficiency in our faith.  Oh, brethren! it is not to be wondered at that Christians do not find that the Lord with them is the Lord their strength and joy, as well as the Lord ‘their righteousness;’ when the amount of their fellowship with Him is so small, and the depth of it so shallow, as we usually find it.  The first true vision that a sinful soul has of God, the imperfect beginnings of religion, usually are accompanied with intense self-abhorrence, and sorrowing tears of penitence.  A further closer vision of the love of God in Jesus Christ brings with it ‘joy and peace in believing.’  But the prolongation of these throughout life requires the steadfast continuousness of gaze towards Him.  It is only where there is much faith and consequent love that there is much joy.  Let us search our own hearts.  If there is but little heat around the bulb of the thermometer, no wonder that the mercury marks a low degree.  If there is but small faith, there will not be much gladness.  The road into Giant Despair’s castle is through doubt, which doubt comes from an absence, a sinful absence, in our own experience, of the felt presence of God, and the felt force of the verities of His Gospel.

But then, besides that, there is another fault: not a fault in the sense of crime or sin, but a fault (and a great one) in the sense of error and misapprehension.  We as Christians do not take the position which we have a right to take and that we are bound to take.  Men venture themselves upon God’s word as they do on doubtful ice, timidly putting a light foot out, to feel if it will bear them, and always having the tacit fear, ‘Now, it is going to crack!’  You must cast yourselves on God’s Gospel with all your weight, without any hanging back, without any doubt, without even the shadow of a suspicion that it will give — that the firm, pure floor will give, and let you through into the water!  A Christian shrink from saying what the Apostle said, ‘I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until that day!’  A Christian fancy that salvation is a future thing, and forget that it is a present thing!  A Christian tremble to profess ‘assurance of hope,’ forgetting that there is no hope strong enough to bear the stress of a life’s sorrows, which is not a conviction certain as one’s own existence!  Brethren I understand that the Gospel is a Gospel which brings a present salvation; and try to feel that it is not presumption, but simply acting out the very fundamental principle of it, when you are not afraid to say, ‘I know that my Redeemer is yonder, and I know that He loves me!’  Try to feel, I say, that by faith you have a right to take that position, ‘Now, we know that we are the sons of God’; that you have a right to claim for yourselves, and that you are falling beneath the loftiness of the gift that is given to you unless you do claim for yourselves, the place of sons, accepted, loved, sure to be glorified at God’s right hand.  Am I teaching presumption?  Am I teaching carelessness, or a dispensing with self-examination?  No, but I am saying this: If a man have once felt, and feel, in however small and feeble a degree, and depressed by whatsoever sense of daily transgressions, if he feel, faint like the first movement of an imprisoned bird in its egg, the feeble pulse of an almost imperceptible and fluttering faith beat — then that man has a right to say, ‘God is mine!’

As one of our great teachers, little remembered now said, ‘Let me take my personal salvation for granted’ — and what? and ‘be idle?’  No; ‘and work from it.’  Ay, brethren! a Christian is not to be forever asking himself, ‘Am I a Christian?’  He is not to be for ever looking into himself for marks and signs that he is.  He is to look into himself to discover sins, that he may by God’s help cast them out, to discover sins that shall teach him to say with greater thankfulness, ‘What a redemption this is which I possess!’ but he is to base his convictions that he is God’s child upon something other than his own characteristics and the feebleness of his own strength.  He is to have ‘joy in the Lord’ whatever may be his sorrow from outward things.  And I believe that if Christian people would lay that thought to heart, they would understand better how the natural operation of the Gospel is to make them glad, and how rejoicing in the Lord is a Christian duty.

III. And now with regard to the other thought that still remains to be considered, namely, that rejoicing in the Lord is a source of strength, — I have already anticipated, fragmentarily, nearly all that I could have said here in a more systematic form.  All gladness has something to do with our efficiency; for it is the prerogative of man that his force comes from his mind, and not from his body.  That old song about a sad heart tiring in a mile, is as true in regard to the Gospel, and the works of Christian people, as in any other case.  If we have hearts full of light, and souls at rest in Christ, and the wealth and blessedness of a tranquil gladness lying there, and filling our being; work will be easy, endurance will be easy, sorrow will be bearable, trials will not be so very hard, and above all temptations we shall be lifted, and set upon a rock.  If the soul is full, and full of joy, what side of it will be exposed to the assault of any temptation?  If the appeal be to fear, the gladness that is there is an answer.  If the appeal be to passion, desire, wish for pleasure of any sort, there is no need for any more — the heart is full. And so the gladness which rests in Christ will be a gladness which will fit us for all service and for all endurance, which will be unbroken by any sorrow, and, like the magic shield of the old legends, invisible, impenetrable, in its crystalline purity will stand before the tempted heart and will repel all the ‘fiery darts of the wicked.’

‘The joy of the Lord is your strength,’ my brother!  Nothing else is.  No vehement resolutions, no sense of his own sinfulness, nor even contrite remembrance of past failures, ever yet made a man strong.  It made him weak that he might become strong, and when it had done that it had done its work.  For strength, there must be hope; for strength, there must be joy.  If the arm is to smite with vigor, it must smite at the bidding of a calm and light heart.  Christian work is of such a sort as that the most dangerous opponent to it is simple despondency and simple sorrow.  ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’

Well, then! there are two questions: How comes it that so much of the world’s joy is weakness? and how comes it that so much of the world’s notion of religion is gloom and sadness?  Answer them for yourselves, and remember: you are weak unless you are glad; you are not glad and strong unless your faith and hope are fixed in Christ, and unless you are working from and not towards the sense of pardon, from and not towards the conviction of acceptance with God!

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Lovest Thou Me? by Alexander MacLaren

‘Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him. Feed My lambs.’ — John 21:15

Peter had already seen the risen Lord.  There had been that interview on Easter morning on which the seal of sacred secrecy was impressed; when, alone, the denier poured out his heart to his Lord and was taken to the heart that he had wounded.  Then there had been two interviews on the two successive Sundays in which the Apostle, in common with his brethren, had received, as one of the group, the Lord’s benediction, the Lord’s gift of the Spirit, and the Lord’s commission.

But something more was needed.  There had been public denial; there must be public confession.  If he had slipped again into the circle of the disciples with no special treatment or reference to his fall, it might have seemed a trivial fault to others, and even to himself.  And so, after that strange meal on the beach, we have this exquisitely beautiful and deeply instructive incident of the special treatment needed by the denier before he could be publicly reinstated in his office.

The meal seems to have passed in silence.  That awe which hung over the disciples in all their intercourse with Jesus during the forty days lay heavy on them, and they sat there, huddled round the fire, eating silently the meal which Christ had provided, no doubt gazing silently at the silent Lord.  What a tension of expectation there must have been as to how the oppressive silence was to be broken!  And how Peter’s heart must have throbbed and the others’ ears been pricked up, when it was broken by ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?’  We may listen with pricked-up ears too.  For we have here, in Christ’s treatment of the Apostle, a revelation of how He behaves to a soul conscious of its fault; and, in Peter’s demeanor, an illustration of how a soul, conscious of its fault, should behave to Him.

There are three stages here: the threefold question, the threefold answer and the threefold charge.  Let us look at these.

I. The threefold question. The reiteration in the interrogation did not express doubt as to the veracity of the answer nor dissatisfaction with its terms; but it did express, and was meant, I suppose, to suggest to Peter and to the others that the threefold denial needed to be obliterated by the threefold confession; and that every black mark that had been scored deep on the page by that denial needed to be covered over with the gilding or bright coloring of the triple acknowledgment.  And so Peter thrice having said, ‘I know Him not;’ Jesus with a gracious violence forced him to say thrice, ‘Thou knowest that I love Thee.’  The same intention to compel Peter to go back upon his past comes out in two things besides the triple form of the question.

The one is the designation by which he is addressed, ‘Simon, son of Jonas,’ which travels back, as it were, to the time before he was a disciple, and points a finger to his weak humanity before it had come under the influence of Jesus Christ.  ‘Simon, son of Jonas,’ was the name that he bore in the days before his discipleship. It was the name by which Jesus had addressed him, therefore, on that never-to-be-forgotten turning-point of his life when he was first brought to Him by his brother Andrew.  It was the name by which Jesus had addressed him at the very climax of his past life when, high up, he had been able to see far, and in answer to the Lord’s question, had rung out the confession: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!’  So the name by which Jesus addresses him now says to him in effect: ‘Remember thy human weakness; remember how you were drawn to Me; remember the high-water mark of thy discipleship, when I was plain before thee as the Son of God, and remembering all these, answer Me — lovest thou Me?’

The same intention to drive Peter back to the wholesome remembrance of a stained past is obvious in the first form of the question. Our Lord mercifully does not persist in giving to it that form in the second and third instances: ‘Lovest thou Me more than these?’  More than these, what?  I cannot for a moment believe that that question means something so trivial and irrelevant as ‘Lovest thou Me more than these nets and boats and the fishing?’  No; in accordance with the purpose that runs through the whole, of compelling Peter to retrospect, it says to him, ‘Do you remember what you said a dozen hours before you denied Me, “Though all should forsake Thee, yet will not I”?  Are you going to take that stand again?  Lovest thou Me more than these, that never discredited their boasting so shamefully?’

So, dear brethren! here we have Jesus Christ, in His treatment of this penitent and half-restored soul, forcing a man, with merciful compulsion, to look steadfastly and long at his past sin and to retrace step by step, shameful stage by shameful stage, the road by which he had departed so far.  Every foul place he is to stop and look at and think about.  Each detail he has to bring up before his mind.  Was it not cruel of Jesus thus to take Peter by the neck, as it were, and hold him right down, close to the foul things that he had done, and say to him, ‘Look! look! look ever! And answer, Lovest thou Me?’  No; it was not cruel; it was true kindness. Peter was never so abundantly and permanently penetrated by the sense of the sinfulness of his sin, as after he was sure, as he had been made sure in that great interview, that it was all forgiven.  So long as a man is disturbed by the dread of consequences, so long as he is doubtful as to his relation to the forgiving Love, he is not in a position beneficially and sanely to consider his evil in its moral quality only.  But when the conviction comes to a man, ‘God is pacified towards thee for all that thou hast done;’ and when he can look at his own evil without the smallest disturbance rising from slavish fear of issues, then he is in a position rightly to estimate its darkness and its depth.  And there can be no better discipline for us all than to remember our faults and penitently to travel back over the road of our sins, just because we are sure that God in Christ has forgotten them.  The beginning of Christ’s merciful treatment of the forgiven man is to compel him to remember, that he may learn and be ashamed.

And then there is another point here in this triple question.  How significant and beautiful it is that the only thing that Jesus Christ cares to ask about is the sinner’s love! We might have expected: ‘Simon, son of Jonas, are you sorry for what you did?  Simon, son of Jonas, will you promise never to do the like any more?’  No!  These things will come if the other thing is there.  ‘Lovest thou Me?’  Jesus Christ sues each of us, not for obedience primarily, not for repentance, not for vows, not for conduct, but for a heart; and that being given, all the rest will follow.  That is the distinguishing characteristic of Christian morality: that Jesus seeks first for the surrender of the affections, and believes, and is warranted in the belief, that if these are surrendered, all else will follow.  And love being given, loyalty and service and repentance and hatred of self-will and of self-seeking will follow in her train.  All the graces of human character which Christ seeks and is ready to impart, are, as it were, but the pages and ministers of the regal Love, who follow behind and swell the cortege of her servants.

Christ asks for love.  Surely that indicates the depth of His own!  In this commerce, He is satisfied with nothing less and can ask for nothing more; and He seeks for love because He is love and has given love.  Oh! to all hearts burdened, as all our hearts ought to be — unless the burden has been cast off in one way — by the consciousness of our own weakness and imperfection, surely, surely, it is a gospel that is contained in that one question addressed to a man who had gone far astray, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?’

Here, again, we have Jesus Christ, in His dealing with the penitent, willing to trust discredited professions. We think that one of the signs of our being wise people is that experience shall have taught us ‘once’ being ‘bit, twice’ to be ‘shy,’ and if a man has once deceived us by flaming professions and ice-cold acts, never to trust him any more.  We think that is ‘worldly wisdom’ and ‘the bitter fruit of earthly experience’ and ‘sharpness’ and ‘shrewdness’ and so forth.  Jesus Christ, even whilst reminding Peter by that ‘more than these,’ of his utterly hollow and unreliable boasting, shows Himself ready to accept once again the words of one whose inveracity He had proved.  ‘Charity hopeth all things, believeth all things,’ and Jesus Christ is ready to trust us when we say, ‘I love Thee,’ even though often in the past our professed love has been all disproved.

We have here, in this question, our Lord revealing Himself as willing to accept the imperfect love which a disciple can offer Him. Of course, many of you well know that there is a very remarkable play of expression here.  In the two first questions, the word which our Lord employs for ‘love’ is not the same as that which appears in Peter’s two first answers.  Christ asks for one kind of love; Peter proffers another.  I do not enter upon discussion as to the distinction between these two apparent synonyms.  The kind of love which Christ asks for is higher, nobler, less emotional and more associated with the whole mind and will.  It is the inferior kind, the more warm, more sensuous, more passionate and emotional, which Peter brings.  And then, in the third question, our Lord, as it were, surrenders and takes Peter’s own word, as if He had said, ‘Be it so!  You shrink from professing the higher kind; I will take the lower and I will educate and bring that up to the height that I desire you to stand at.’  Ah, brother! however stained and imperfect, however disproved by denials, however tainted by earthly associations, Jesus Christ will accept the poor stream of love – though it be but a trickle when it ought to be a torrent – which we can bring Him.

These are the lessons which it seems to me lie in this triple question.  I have dealt with them at the greater length because those which follow are largely dependent upon them.  But let me turn now briefly, in the second place, to —

II. The triple answer. ‘Yea, Lord! Thou knowest that I love Thee.’  Is not that beautiful, that the man who by Christ’s Resurrection (as the last of the answers shows) had been led to the loftiest conception of Christ’s omniscience and regarded Him as knowing the hearts of all men should, in the face of all that Jesus Christ knew about his denial and his sin, have dared to appeal to Christ’s own knowledge?  What a superb and all-conquering confidence in Christ’s depth of knowledge and forgivingness of knowledge that answer showed!  He felt that Jesus could look beneath the surface of his sin and see that below it there was, even in the midst of the denial, a heart that in its depths was true.  It is a tremendous piece of confident appeal to the deeper knowledge and therefore the larger love and more abundant forgiveness of the righteous Lord — ‘Thou knowest that I love Thee.’

Brethren! a Christian man ought to be sure of his love to Jesus Christ.  You do not study your conduct in order to infer from it your love to others.  You do not study your conduct in order to infer from it your love to your wife or your husband or your parents or your children or your friend.  Love is not a matter of inference; it is a matter of consciousness and intuition.  Whilst self-examination is needful for us all for many reasons, a Christian man ought to be as sure that he loves Jesus Christ as he is sure that he loves his dearest upon earth.

It used to be the fashion long ago — this generation has not depth enough to keep up the fashion — for Christian people to talk as if it were a point they longed to know, whether they loved Jesus Christ or not.  There is no reason why it should be a point we long to know.  You know all about your love to one another and you are sure about that.  Why are you not sure about your love to Jesus Christ?  ‘Oh! but,’ you say, ‘look at my sins and failures;’ and if Peter had looked only at his sins, do you not think that his words would have stuck in his throat?  He did look, but he looked in a very different way from that of trying to ascertain from his conduct whether he loved Jesus Christ or not.  Brethren, any sin is inconsistent with Christian love to Christ.  Thank God, we have no right to say of any sin that it is incompatible with that love!  More than that; a great, gross, flagrant, sudden fall like Peter’s is a great deal less inconsistent with love to Christ than are the continuously unworthy, worldly, selfish, Christ-forgetting lives of hosts of complacent professing Christians today.  White ants will eat up the carcass of a dead buffalo more quickly than a lion will.  To have denied Christ once, twice, thrice, in the space of an hour, and under strong temptation, is not half so bad as to call Him ‘Master’ and ‘Lord,’ and day by day, week in, week out, in works to deny Him.  The triple answer declares to us that in spite of a man’s sins, he ought to be conscious of his love and be ready to profess it when need is.

III. Lastly, we have here the triple commission. I do not dwell upon it at any length because in its original form it applies especially to the apostolic office.  But the general principles which underlie this threefold charge, to feed and to tend both ‘the sheep’ and ‘the lambs,’ may be put in a form that applies to each of us, and it is this — the best token of a Christian’s love to Jesus Christ is his service of man for Christ’s sake.  ‘Lovest thou Me?’  ‘Yea! Lord.’  Thou hast said: go and do, ‘Feed My lambs; feed My sheep.’  We need the profession of words; we need, as Peter himself enjoined at a subsequent time, to be ready to ‘give to every man that asketh us a reason of the hope’ and an acknowledgment of the love that is in us.  But if you want men to believe in your love, however Jesus Christ may know it, go and work in the Master’s vineyard.  The service of man is the garb of the love of God.  ‘He that loveth God will love his brother also.’  Do not confine that thought of service and feeding and tending to what we call evangelistic and religious work.  That is one of its forms, but it is only one of them.  Everything in which Christian men can serve their fellows is to be taken by them as their worship of their Lord and is taken by the world as the convincing proof of the reality of their love.

Love to Jesus Christ is the qualification for all such service.  If we are knit to Him by true affection, which is based upon our consciousness of our own falls and evils and our reception of His forgiving mercy, then we shall have the qualities that fit us and the impulse that drives us to serve and help our fellows.  I do not say — God forbid! — that there is no philanthropy apart from Christian faith, but I do say that, on the wide scale, and in the long run, they who are knit to Jesus Christ by love will be those who render the greatest help to all that are ‘afflicted in mind, body, or estate.’  The true basis and qualification for efficient service of our fellows is the utter surrender of our hearts to Him who is the Fountain of love and from whom comes all our power to live in the world, as the images and embodiments of the love which has saved us that we might help to save others.

Brethren! let us all ask ourselves Christ’s question to the denier.  Let us look our past evils full in the face, that we may learn to hate them and that we may learn more the width and the sweep of the power of His pardoning mercy.  God grant that we may all be able to say, ‘Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee!’

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