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´╗┐Title: How to become like Christ
Author: Dods, Marcus, 1834-1909
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "How to become like Christ" ***

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HOW TO BECOME LIKE CHRIST


CONTENTS

  How to Become Like Christ
  The Transfiguration
  Indiscreet Importunity
  Shame on Account of God's Displeasure
  Naaman Cured
  The Lame Man at the Temple Gate


HOW TO BECOME LIKE CHRIST.

"But we all, with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of
the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even
as by the Spirit of the Lord."--2 COR. iii. 18 (Revised Version).

I suppose there is almost no one who would deny, if it were put to
him, that the greatest possible attainment a man can make in this
world is likeness to The Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly no one would
deny that there is nothing but character that we can carry out of
life with us, and that our prospect of good in any future life will
certainly vary with the resemblance of our character to that of Jesus
Christ, which is to rule the whole future. We all admit that; but
almost every one of us offers to himself some apology for not being
like Christ, and has scarcely any clear reality of aim of becoming
like Him. Why, we say to ourselves, or we say in our practice, it is
really impossible in a world such as ours is to become perfectly
holy. One or two men in a century may become great saints; given a
certain natural disposition and given exceptionally favouring
circumstances, men may become saintly; but surely the ordinary run of
men, men such as we know ourselves to be, with secular disposition
and with many strong, vigorous passions--surely we can really not be
expected to become like Christ, or, if it is expected of us, we know
that it is impossible. On the contrary, Paul says, "We all," "we
all." Every Christian has that for a destiny: to be changed into the
image of his Lord. And he not only says so, but in this one verse he
reveals to us the mode of becoming like Christ, and a mode, as we
shall find, so simple and so infallible in its working that a man
cannot understand it without renewing his hope that even he may one
day become like Christ.

In order to understand this simplest mode of sanctification we must
look back at the incident that we read in the Book of Exodus (xxxiv.
29-35.). Paul had been reading how when Moses came down from the
mount where he had been speaking with God his face shone, so as to
dazzle and alarm those who were near him.

They at once recognised that that was the glory of God reflected from
him; and just as it is almost as difficult for us to look at the sun
reflected from a mirror as to look directly at the sun, so these men
felt it almost as difficult to look straight at the face of Moses as
to look straight at the face of God. But Moses was a wise man, and he
showed his wisdom in this instance as well as elsewhere. He knew that
that glory was only on the skin of his face, and that of course it
would pass away. It was a superficial shining. And accordingly he put
a veil over his face, that the children of Israel might not see it
dying out from minute to minute and from hour to hour, because he
knew these Israelites thoroughly, and he knew that when they saw the
glory dying out they would say, "God has forsaken Moses. We need not
attend to him any more. His authority is gone, and the glory of God's
presence has passed from him." So Moses wore the veil that they might
not see the glory dying out. But whenever he was called back to the
presence of God he took off the veil and received a new access of
glory on his face, and thus went "from glory to glory."

"That," says Paul, "is precisely the process through which we
Christian men become like Christ." We go back to the presence of
Christ with unveiled face; and as often as we stand in His presence,
as often as we deal in our spirit with the living Christ, so often do
we take on a little of His glory. The glory of Christ is His
character; and as often as we stand before Christ, and think of Him,
and realise what He was, our heart goes out and reflects some of His
character. And that reflection, that glory, is not any longer merely
on the skin of the face; as Paul wishes us to recognise, it is a
spiritual glory, it is wrought by the spirit of Christ upon our
spirit, and it is we ourselves that are changed from glory to glory
into the very image of the Lord.

Now obviously this mode of sanctification has extraordinary
recommendations. In the first place, it is absolutely simple. If you
go to some priest or spiritual director, or minister of the Gospel,
or friend, and ask what you are to do if you wish to become a holy
man, why, even the best of them will almost certainly tell you to
read certain books, to spend so much time in prayer and reading your
Bible, to go regularly to church, to engage in this and that good
work. If you had applied to a spiritual director of the middle ages
of this world's history and of the history of Christianity, he would
have told you that you must retire from the world altogether in order
to become holy. Paul says, "Away with all that nonsense!" We are
living in a real world; Christ lived in a real world: Christ did not
retire from men. And He says all that you have to do in order to be
like Christ is to carry His image with you in your heart. That is
all. To be with Him, to let Him stand before you and command your
love, that will infallibly change you into His image. I do not know
that we sufficiently recognise the simplicity of Christian methods.
We do not understand what Paul meant by proclaiming it as the
religion of the spirit, as a religion superior to everything
mechanical and external. Think of the deliverance it was for him who
had grown up under a religion which commanded him to go a journey
three times a year, to take the best of his goods and offer them in
the Temple, to comply with a multitude of oppressive observances and
ordinances. Think of the emancipation when he found a spiritual
religion. Why, in those times a man must have despaired of becoming a
holy man; But now Paul says you will infallibly become holy if you
learn this easy lesson of carrying the Lord Jesus with you in your
heart.

Another recommendation of this method is that it is so obviously
grounded on our own nature. No sooner are we told by Paul that we
must act as mirrors of Christ than we recognise that nature has made
us to be mirrors, that we cannot but reflect what is passing before
us. You are walking along the street, and, a little child runs before
a carriage; you shrink back as if you were in danger. You see a man
fall from a scaffolding, crushed; your face takes on an expression of
pain, reflecting what is passing in him. You go and spend an evening
with a man much stronger, much purer, much saner, than yourself, and
you come away knowing yourself a stronger and a better man. Why?
Because you are a mirror, because in your inmost nature you have
responded to and reflected the good that was in him.

Look into any family, and what do you see? You see the boy, not
imitating consciously, but taking on, his father's looks and
attitudes and ways; and as the boy grows up these become his own
looks and attitudes and ways. He has reflected his father from one
degree of proficiency unto another, from one intimacy, from one day's
observation of his father to another, until he is the image of the
old man over again.

"Similarly," says Paul, "live with Christ; learn to carry His image
with you, learn to adore Him, learn to love Him, and infallibly,
whether you will or not, by this simple method you will become,
Christ over again; you will become conformed, as God means you to
become conformed, to the image of His Son."

This has been tested by the experience of thousands; and it has been
found to be a true method. Every one who spends but two minutes in
the morning in the observation of Christ, every one who will be at
the pains to let the image of Christ rise before him and to remember
the purity, the unworldliness, the heavenliness, the godliness of
Jesus Christ, that man is the better for this exercise. And how
utterly useless is it to offer any other method of sanctification to
thousands of our fellow-citizens. How can many of our fellow-citizens
secrete themselves for prayer? If you ask them to go and pray as you
pray in your comfortable home, if you ask them to read the Bible
before they go out at five or six o'clock in the morning, do you
expect that your word will be followed? Why, the thing is impossible.
But ask a man to carry Christ with him in his mind, that is a thing
he can do; and if he does it once, if only once the man sees Christ
before him, realises that this living Person is with him, and
remembers the character of Christ as it is written for us in the
Gospels, that man knows that he has made a step in advance, knows
that he is the better for it, knows that he does reflect, for a
little, even though it be but for a little, the very image of the
Lord Jesus Christ; and other people know it also.

Now, if that is so, there are obviously three things that we must do.
We must in the first place, learn to associate with Christ. I say
that even one reflection does something, but we need to reflect
Christ constantly, continually, if we are to become like Him. When
you pass away from before a mirror the reflection also .goes. In the
case of Moses the reflection stayed for a little, and that is perhaps
a truer figure of what happens to the Christian who sets Christ
before him and reflects him. But very often as soon as Christ is not
consciously remembered you fall back to other remembrances and
reflect other things. You go out in the morning with your associates,
and they carry you away; you have not as yet sufficiently impressed
upon yourself the image of Christ. Therefore we must learn to carry
Christ with us always, as a constant Companion. Some one may say that
is impossible. No one will say it is impossible who is living in
absence from anyone he loves. What happens when we are living
separated from some one we love? This happens: that his image is
continually in our minds. At the most unexpected times that image
rises, and especially, if we are proposing to ourselves to do what
that person would not approve. At once his image rises to rebuke us
and to hold us back. So that it is not only possible to carry with us
the image of Christ: it is absolutely certain that we shall carry
that image with us if only we give Him that love and reverence which
is due from every human being. Who has done for us what Christ has
done? Who commands our reverence as He does? If once He gets hold of
our affection, it is impossible that He should not live constantly in
our hearts. And if we say that persons deeply immersed in business
cannot carry Christ with them thus, remember what He Himself says:
"If any man love Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love
him, and we will come unto him." So that He is most present with the
busiest and with those who strive as best they can to keep His
commandments.

But we must not only associate with Christ and make Him our constant
company: we must, in the second place, set ourselves square with
Christ. You know that if you look into a mirror obliquely, if a
mirror is not set square with you, you do not see yourself, but what
is at the opposite angle, something that is pleasant or something
that is disagreeable to you; it matters not--you cannot see yourself.
And unless we as mirrors set ourselves perfectly square with Christ,
we do not reflect Him, but perhaps things that are in His sight
monstrous. And, in point of fact, that is what happens with most of
us, because it is here that we are chiefly tried. All persons brought
up within the Christian Church pay some attention to Christ. We too
well understand His excellence and we too well understand the
advantages of being Christian men not to pay some attention to
Christ. But that will not make us conform to His image. In order to
be conformed to the image of Christ we must be wholly His. Suppose
you enter a studio where a sculptor is working, will he hand you his
hammer and chisel to finish the most difficult piece of his work or
to do any part of it? Assuredly not. It is his own idea that he is
working out, and none but his own hand can work it out. So with us
who are to be moulded by Christ. Christ cannot mould us into His
image unless we are wholly His. Every stroke that is made upon us by
the chisel and mallet of the world is lost to His ideal. As often as
we reflect what is not purely Christian, so often do we mar the I
image of Christ.

Now how is it with us? Need we ask? When we go along the street, what
is it that we reflect? Do we not reflect a thousand things that
Christ disapproves? What is it that our heart responds to when we are
engaged in business? Is it to appeals that this world makes to us? Is
it the appeal that a prospect of gain makes to us that we respond to
eagerly? That is what is making us; that is what is moulding and
making us the men that we are destined to be. We are moulded into the
character that we are destined to live with for ever and ever, by our
likings and dislikings, by the actual response that we are now giving
day by day to the things that we have to do with in this world. We
may loathe the character of the sensualist; no language is too strong
for us when we speak of him: but if we, in point of fact, respond to
appeals made to the flesh rather than appeals made to the spirit, we
are becoming sensual. We may loathe and despise the character of the
avaricious worldly man; we may see its littleness, and pettiness, and
greed, and selfishness: but do our own hearts go out in response to
any offer of gain more eagerly than they go out to Christian work or
to the interests of Christ's kingdom? Then we are becoming worldly
and avaricious; we are becoming the very kind of men that we despise.

Of course we know this. We Know that we are being made by what we
respond to, and the older we grow we know it the more clearly; we see
it written on our own character that we have become the kind of men
that we little thought one day we should become, and we know that we
have become such men by responding to certain things which are not
the things of the Spirit. Never was a truer word said than that he
that Soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption, and he
only that soweth to the Spirit shall reap life. That is what in other
terms Paul here says. He says, "If you set yourselves square with
Christ, you will become like Him; that is to say, if you find your
all in Him, if you can be absolutely frank and honest with Him, if
you can say, 'Mould and fashion me according to Thy will; lead me
according to Thy will; make me in this world what Thou wilt; do with
me what Thou wilt: I put myself wholly at Thy disposal; I do not wish
to crane to see past Christ's figure to some better thing beyond; I
give myself wholly and freely to him'--the man that says this, the
man that does this, he will certainly become like to Him. But the man
who even when he prays knows that he has desires in his heart that
Christ cannot gratify, the man that never goes out from his own home
or never goes into his own home without knowing that he has responded
to things that Christ disapproves--how can that man hope to be like
Him?"

We must then associate with Christ, and we must set ourselves
squarely; we must. be absolutely true in our entire and absolute
devotion. Surely no man thinks that this is a hardship; that his
nature and life will be restricted by giving himself wholly to
Christ? It is only, as every Christian will tell you--it is only when
you give yourself entirely to Christ that you know what freedom
means; that you know what it is to live in this world afraid of
nothing. Superior to things that before you were afraid of and
anxious about, you at length learn what it is to be a child of God.
Let no man think that he lames his nature and makes his life poorer
by becoming entirely the possession of Christ.

But, thirdly, we must set Christ before us and live before Him with
unveiled face. "We all _with unveiled face_ reflecting as a mirror."
Throw a napkin over a mirror, and it reflects nothing. Perfect beauty
may stand before it, but the mirror gives no sign. And this is why in
a dispensation like ours, the Christian dispensation, with everything
contrived to reflect Christ, to exhibit Christ, the whole thing set
a-going for this purpose of exhibiting Christ, we so little see Him.
How is it that two men can sit at a Communion table together, and the
one be lifted to the seventh heaven and see the King in His beauty,
while the other only envies his neighbour his vision? Why is it that
in the same household two persons will pass through identically the
same domestic circumstances, the same events, from year to year, and
the one see Christ everywhere, while the other grows sullen, sour,
indifferent? Why is it? Because the one wears a veil that prevents
him from seeing Christ; the other lives with unveiled face. How was
it that the Psalmist, in the changes of the seasons even, in the
mountain, in the sea, in everything that he had to do, found God? How
was it that he knew that even though he made his bed in hell he would
find God? Because he had an unveiled face; he was prepared to find
God. How is it that many of us can come into church and be much more
taken up with the presence of some friend than with the presence of
Christ? The same reason still: we wear a veil; we do not come with
unveiled face prepared to see Him.

And When we ask ourselves, "What, in point of fact, is the veil that
I wear? What is it that has kept me from responding to the perfect
beauty of Christ's character? I know that that character is perfect;
I know that I ought to respond to it; I know that I ought to go out
eagerly towards Christ and strive to become like Him; why do I not do
it?" we find that the veil that keeps us from responding thus to
Christ and reflecting Him is not like the mere dimness on a mirror
which the bright and warm presence of Christ Himself would dry off;
it is like an incrustation that has been growing out from our hearts
all our life long, and that now is impervious, so far as we can see,
to the image of Christ. How can hearts steeped in worldliness reflect
this absolutely unworldly, this heavenly Person? When we look into
our hearts, what do we find in point of fact? We find a thousand
,things that we know have no right there; that we know to be wrong.
How can such hearts reflect this perfect purity of Christ? Well, we
must see to it that these hearts be cleansed; we must hold ourselves
before Christ until from very shame these passions of ours are
subdued, until His purity works its way into our hearts through all
obstructions; and we must keep our hearts, we must keep the mirror
free from dust, free from incrustations, once we have cleansed it.

In some circumstances you might be tempted to say that really it is
not so much that there is a veil on the mirror as that there is no
quicksilver at all behind. You meet in life characters so thin, so
shallow, that every good thought seems to go through and out of them
at the other side; they hear with one ear, and it goes out at the
other. You can make no impression upon them. There is nothing to
impress, no character there to work upon. They are utterly
indifferent to spiritual things, and never give a thought to their
own character. What is to be done with such persons? God is the great
Teacher of us all; God, in His providence, has made many a man who
has begun life as shallow and superficial as man can be, deep enough
before He has done with him.

Two particulars in which the perfectness of this method appears may
be pointed out. First of all, it is perfect in this: that anyone who
begins it is bound to go on to the end. The very nature of the case
leads him to go on and on from glory to glory, back and back to
Christ, until the process is, actually completed, and he is like
Christ. The reason is this: that the Christian conscience is never
much taken up with attainment made, but always with attainment that
is yet to be made. It is the difference not the likeness that touches
the conscience. A friend has been away in Australia for ten years,
and he sends you his likeness, and you take it out eagerly, and you
say, "Yes, the eyes are the very eyes; the brow, the hair are exactly
like," but there is something about the mouth that you do not like,
and you thrust it away in a drawer and never look at it again. Why?
Because the one point of unlikeness destroys the whole to you. Just
so when any Christian presents himself before Christ it is not the
points of likeness, supposing there are any, which strike his
conscience--it is the remaining points of difference that inevitably
strike him, and so he is urged on and on from one degree of
proficiency to another until the process is completed, because there
is no point at which a man has made a sufficient attainment in the
likeness of Christ. There is no point at which Christ draws a line
and says, "You will do well if you reach this height, and you need
not strive further." Why, we should be dissatisfied, we should throw
up our allegiance to Christ if He treated us so. He is our ideal, and
it is resemblance to Him that draws us and makes us strive forward;
and so a man is bound, to go on, and on, and on, still drawn on to
his ideal, still rebuked by his shortcomings until he perfectly
resembles Christ.

And this character of Christ that is our ideal is not assumed by Him
for the nonce. He did not change His nature when He came to this
earth; He did not put on this character to set us an example. The
things that He did, He did because it was His nature to do them. He
came to this world because His love would not let Him stay away from
us. It was His nature that brought Him here, and it is His nature to
be what He is, and so his character is to become our nature; it is to
be so wrought in us that we cannot give it up. It is our eternal
character, and therefore any amount of pains is worth spending on the
achievement of it.

The second point of perfectness lies here. You know that in painting
a likeness or cutting out a bust one feature often may be almost
finished while the rest are scarcely touched, but in standing before
a mirror the whole comes out at once. Now we often in the Christian
life deal with ourselves as if we were painters and sculptors, not as
if we were mirrors: we hammer and chisel away at ourselves to bring
out some resemblance to Christ in some particulars, thinking that we
can do it piecemeal; we might as well try to feed up our body
piecemeal; we might as well try to make our eye bright without giving
our cheek colour and our hands strength. The body is a whole, and we
must feed the whole and nourish the whole if any one part of it is to
be vigorous.

So it is with character. The character is a whole, and you can only
deal with your character as a whole. What has resulted when we have
tried the other process? Sometimes we set ourselves to subdue a sin
or cultivate a grace. Well, candidly say what has come of this.
Judging from my own experience, I would say that this comes of it:
that in three or four days you forget what sin it was that you were
trying to subdue. The temptation is away, and the sin is not there,
and you forget all about it. That is the very snare of sin. Or you
become a little better in a point that you were trying to cultivate.
In that grace you are a shade improved. But that only brings out more
astoundingly your frightful shortcoming in other particulars. Now,
adopting Paul's method, this happens: Christ acts on our character
just as a person acts upon a mirror. The whole image is reflected at
once. How is it that society moulds a man? How can you tell in what
class in society a man has been brought up? Not by one thing, not by
his accent, not by his bearing, not by his conduct, but the whole
man. And why? Because a man does not consciously imitate this or that
feature of the society in which he is brought up, does not do it
consciously at all; he is merely reflecting it as a mirror, and
society acts on him as a whole, and makes him the man he is. "Just
so," says Paul. "Live with Christ, and He will make you the man that
you are destined to be."

One word in conclusion. I suppose there is no one who at one time or
other has not earnestly desired to be of some use in the world.
Perhaps there are few who have not even definitely desired to be of
some use in the kingdom of Christ. As soon as we recognise the
uniqueness of Christ's purpose and the uniqueness of His power in the
world, as soon as we recognise that all good influence and all
superlatively dominant influence proceeds from Him, and that really
the hope of our race lies in Jesus Christ--as soon as we realise
that, as soon as we see that with our reason, and not as a thing that
we have been taught to believe, as soon as we lay hold on it for
ourselves, we cannot but wish to do something to forward His purposes
in the world. But as soon as we form the wish we say, "What can we
do? We have not been born with great gifts; we have not been born in
superior positions; we have not wealth; we are shut off from the
common ways of doing good; we cannot teach in the Sabbath school; we
cannot go and preach; we cannot go and speak to the sick; we cannot
speak even to our fellow at the desk. What can we do?" We can do the
best thing of all, as of course all the best things are open to every
man. Love, faith, joy, hope, all these things, all the best things,
are open to all men; and so here it is open to all of us to forward
the cause of Christ in the most influential way possible, if not in
the most prominent way. What happens when a person is looking into a
shop window where there is a mirror, and some one comes up
behind--some one he knows? He does not look any longer at the image;
he turns to look at the person whose image is reflected. Or if he
sees reflected on the mirror something very striking: he does not
content himself with looking at the image; he turns and looks at the
thing itself. So it is always with the persons that you have to do
with. If you become a mirror to Christ your friends will detect it in
a very few days; they will see appearing in you, the mirror, an image
which they know has not been originated in you, and they will turn to
look straight at the Person that you are reflecting. It is in that
way that Christianity passes from man to man.


THE TRANSFIGURATION.

"And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, He took
Peter and John and James and went up into the mountain to
pray."--LUKE ix. 28-36.

The public life or our Lord falls into two parts; and the incident
here recorded is the turning point between them. In order that He
might leave behind Him when He died a sure foundation for His Church,
it was necessary that His intimate companions should at all events
know that He was the Christ, and that the Christ must enter into
glory by suffering death. Only then, when they understood . this,
could He die and leave them on earth behind. Now it is just at this
point in His life that it has become quite clear that the first
article of the Christian creed--that Jesus is the Christ--had been at
last definitely accepted by the disciples. Very solemnly our Lord has
put it to them: "Who say ye that I am ?" No doubt it was a trying
moment for Him as for them. What was He to do if it had not now
become plain at least to a few steadfast souls that He was the
Christ--the Messenger of God to men? Happily the impulsiveness of
Peter gives Him little space for anxiety; for he, with that generous
outburst of affectionate trust which should ring through every creed,
said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." You see the
intensified relief which this brought to our Lord, the keen
satisfaction He felt as He heard it distinctly and solemnly uttered
as the creed of the Twelve; as He heard what hitherto He could only
have gathered from casual expressions, from wistful awe-struck looks,
from overheard questionings and debatings with one another. You see
how at once, He steps on to a new footing with them, as He cordially,
and with intense gratitude, says to Peter, "Blessed art thou, Simon
Barjona." In this Divinely-wrought confession of Peter's, He finds at
last the foundation stone of the earthly building the beginning of
that intelligent and hearty reception of Himself which was to make
earth the recipient of all heaven's fulness. But as yet only half the
work is done. Men believe that He is the King, but as yet they have
very little idea of what the kingdom is to consist. They think Him
worthy of all glory, but the kind of glory, and the way to it they
are ignorant of. From, that time forth, therefore, began Jesus to
show unto them how He must go unto Jerusalem and suffer many things,
even of the men who ought chiefly to have recognised Him, and to be
raised again the third day.

Once before our Lord had been tempted in another way to the throne of
the universal dominion of men; again this temptation is pressed upon
Him by the very men who should have helped Him to resist it; His
closest, His warmest, His most enlightened friends, those who stand
on quite a different plane from the world at large, are His tempters.
Satan found in them an adequate mouthpiece. They, who should have
cheered and heartened Him to face the terrible prospect, were
hindrances, were an additional burden and anxiety to Him.

Now, it is to this conversation that the incident known as the
transfiguration is linked by all the evangelists who relate it--the
first three. It was six days after (or, as Luke says, eight days
after) this conversation that Jesus went up Mount Hermon for the sake
of retirement and prayer. Plainly He was aware that the great crisis
of His life had come. The time had come when He must cease teaching,
and face His destiny. He had made upon His disciples an impression
which would be indelible. With deliberation they had accepted Him as
the Messiah; the Church was founded; His work, so far as His teaching
went, was accomplished. It remained that He should die. To consecrate
Himself to this hard necessity, He retired to the solitude of Mount
Hermon. We start, then, from the wrong point of view, if we suppose
that Jesus climbed Hermon in order to enjoy spiritual ecstasy, or
exhibit His glory to those three men. Ecstasy of this kind must come
unsought; and the way to it lies through conflict, humiliation,
self-mastery. It was not simply to pray that Jesus retired; it was to
engage in the great conflict of His life. And because He felt,
Himself so much in need of kindness and support, He took with Him the
three companions He could most depend upon. They were loyal friends;
and their very presence was a strength to Him. So human was Jesus,
and now so heavily burdened, that the devotedness of these three
plain men--the sound of their voices, the touch of their hands as
they clambered the hill together, gave Him strength and courage. Let
no one be ashamed to lean upon the affection of his fellow-men. Let
us, also, reverently, and with sympathy, accompany our Lord and
witness, and endeavour to understand, the conflict in which He now
engaged. It has been suggested that the transfiguration may best be
understood as a temptation. Undoubtedly there must have been
temptation in the experience of Jesus at this crisis. It was for the
purpose of finally consecrating Himself to death, with all its
painful accompaniments, that He now retired. But the very difficulty
of this act of consecration consisted just in this: that He might, if
He pleased, avoid death. It was because Peter's words, "This be far
from Thee," touched a deep chord in His own spirit, and strengthened
that within Himself which made Him tremble and wish that God's will
could in any other wise be accomplished--it was this which caused Him
so sharply and suddenly to rebuke Peter. Peter's words penetrated to
what was lurking near at hand as His normal temptation. We may very
readily underrate the trial and temptation of Christ, and thus have
only a formal, not a real, esteem for His manhood. We always
underrate it when we do not fully apprehend His human nature, and
believe that He was tempted in all points as we are. But, on the
other hand, we underrate it if we forget that His position was wholly
different from ours. That Jesus had abundant nerve and courage no
reader of the Gospels can, of course, doubt. He was calm in the midst
of a storm which terrified experienced boat-men; in riots that
threatened His life, in the hands of soldiers striving to torment Him
and break Him down, in the presence of judges and enemies, He
maintained a dignity which only the highest courage could maintain.
That such a Person should have quailed at the prospect of physical
suffering, which thousands of men and women have voluntarily and
calmly faced, is simply impossible to believe. Neither was it
entirely His perception of the spiritual significance of death which
made it to Him a far more painful prospect than to any other.
Certainly this clear perception of the meaning of death did add
immensely to its terrors; but if we are even to begin to understand
His trial, and begin is all we can do--we must bear in mind what
Peter had just confessed, and what Jesus Himself knew--that He was
the Christ. It was this which made the difference. Socrates could
toss off the poison as unmoved as if it had been a sleeping-draught,
because he was dying for himself alone. Jesus could only with
trembling take into His hand the fatal cup, because He knew that He
was standing for all men. If He failed, all failed. Everything hung
upon Him. The general who spends the whole night pacing his tent,
debating the chances of battle on the morrow, is not tormented with
the thought of his own private fate, but with the possibilities of
disaster to his men and to his country, if his design or his skill
should at any moment of the battle fail. Jesus was human; and we deny
His humanity, and fail to give Him the honour due to it, if we do not
recognise the difficulty which He must always have felt in believing
that His single act could save the world, and the burden of
responsibility which must have weighed upon Him when He realised that
it was by the Spirit He maintained in life and in death, that God
meant to bless all men. It was because He knew Himself to be the
Christ, and because every man depended upon Him as the Christ, and
because, therefore, the whole blessing God meant for the world
depended upon His maintaining faith in God through the most trying
circumstances--it was because of this that He trembled lest all
should end in failure. It was this which drove Him, again, and again,
and again to the hills to spend all night in prayer, in laying His
burden upon the only Strength that could bear it.

But in retiring in order, with deliberation, finally to dedicate
Himself to death, this temptation must of necessity appear in all its
strength. It is only in presence of all that can induce Him to
another course that He can resolve upon the God-appointed way. As He
prays two figures necessarily rise before Him, and intensify the
temptation. Moses and Elias were God's greatest servants in the past,
and neither of them had passed to glory through so severe an ordeal.
Moses, with eye undimmed and strength unabated, was taken from earth
by a departure so easy that it was said to be "by the kiss of God."
Elijah, instead of removal by death, ascended to his rest in a
chariot of fire. Was it not possible that as easy an exodus might
befit Him? Might not this ignominious death He looked forward to make
it impossible for the people to believe in Him? How could they rank
Him with those old prophets whom God had dealt with so differently
and so plainly honoured? Would people not almost necessarily accept
the death of the cross as proof that He was abandoned? Nay, did not
their sacred books justify them in considering Him accursed of God?
Was He correct in His interpretation of the Scriptures--an
interpretation which led Him to believe that the Messiah must suffer
and die, but which none of His friends admitted, and none of the
authorities and skilled interpreters in His country admitted? Was it
not, after all, possible that His kingdom might be established by
other means? We can see but a small part of the force of these
temptations, but If the presence of those august figures intensified
the normal temptation of this period, their presence was also a very
effectual aid against this temptation. In their presence His
anticipated end could no longer be called death; rather the
departure, or, as the narrative says, the Exodus. The eternal will
and mighty hand which had guided and upheld Moses when he bore the
responsibility and toil of emancipating a host of slaves from the
most powerful of rulers would uphold Jesus in the infinitely
weightier responsibilities which now lay upon Him. Elijah, also, at a
crisis of his people's history, had stood alone against all the might
and malignity of Jezebel and the priests of Baal; alone, and with
death staring him in the face, he confessed God, and, by his
single-handed victory, wrought deliverance for the whole people.
Their combined voice, therefore, says to Jesus, "Banish all fear;
look forward to your decease at Jerusalem as about to effect an
immeasurably grander deliverance than that which gave freedom to your
people. Do not shrink from trusting that the sacrifice of One can
open up a source of blessing to all. Steadfast submission to God's
will is ever the path to glory."

But not only must our Lord have been encouraged and heartened by
recalling the individual experiences of these men, but their presence
reminds Him of His relation to them in God's purposes; for Moses and
Elijah represent the whole Old Testament Church. By the Law and the
Prophets had God up to this time dealt with men; through these He had
revealed Himself. But Jesus had long since recognised that neither
Moses nor Elias, neither Law nor Prophets, were sufficient. The
Christ must come to effect a real mediation between God and man; and
Jesus knew that He Himself was the Christ. On Him lay the task of
making the salvation of the Jews the salvation of the whole world; of
bringing all men to Jehovah. It was under pressure of this
responsibility that He had searched the Scriptures, and found in the
Scriptures what those had not found--that it was necessary that
Christ should suffer and so enter into glory.

Probably it was not so much any one passage of Scripture which had
carried home to the mind of Jesus that the Christ must die. We may
seek for that in vain; it was His perception of the real needs of
men, and of what the Law and the Prophets had done to satisfy these
needs, that showed Him what remained for the final Revealer and
Mediator to accomplish. The Law and the Prophets had told men that
God is holy, and men's blessedness, even as God's blessedness, lies
in holiness. But this very teaching seemed to widen the breach
between men and God, and to make union between them truly hopeless.
By the law came not union with God, but the knowledge of sin. To put
it shortly, fellowship or union with God, which is the beginning and
end of all religion, is but another name for holiness. Holiness is
union with God, and holiness can better be secured by revealing the
holy God as a God of love than by law or by prophets. It is this holy
love and lovingness that the cross of Christ brings home to every
heart. This revelation of the Father, no document and no officials
could possibly make; only the Beloved Son, only one who stood in a
personal relation to the Father, and was of the same nature, as truly
divine as human. Therefore the voice goes forth annulling all
previous utterances, and turning all eyes to Jesus--"Hear Him!"
Therefore, as often as the mind of Christ was employed on this
subject, so often did He see the necessity of death. It was only by
dying that men's sins could be expiated, and only by dying the
fulness of God's love could be exhibited. The Law and the Prophets
spoke to Him always, and now once more of the decease He must
accomplish at Jerusalem. They spoke of His death, because it was His
death that was presupposed by every sacrifice of the Law; by every
prophecy that foretold good to man. The Law found its highest
fulfilment in the most lawless of transgressions; prophecy found its
richest in that which seemed to crush out hope itself.

Nothing, then, could have been more opportune than this for the
encouragement of our Lord. On earth He had found incredulity among
His best friends; incapacity to see why He should die; indifference
to His object here. He now meets with those who, with breathless
interest, await His death as if it were the one only future event. In
their persons He sees, at one view, all who had put their trust in
God from the foundation of the world; all who had put faith in a
sacrifice for sin, knowing it was God's appointment, and that He
would vindicate His own wisdom and truth by finding a real
propitiation; all who, through dark and troublous times, had strained
to see the consolation of Israel; all who, in the misery of their own
thought, had still believed that there was a true glory for men
somewhere to be attained; all who through the darkness and storm and
fear of earth had trusted in God, scarcely daring to think what would
become of their trust, but assured that God had spoken, nay, had
covenanted with His people, and finding true rest in Him. When all
these now stand before our Lord in the persons of Moses and Elias,
the hitherto mediators between God and man, must not their waiting
eyes, their longing, trustful expectation, have confirmed His resolve
that their hope should not be put to shame? The whole anxiety of
guilty consciences, the whole hope of men awakened, the whole longing
sigh for a God revealed, that had breathed from the ancient Church,
at once became audible to His ear. At once He felt the dependence of
all who had died in faith in the promise. He meets the eager,
questioning gaze of all who had hoped for salvation concentrated on
Himself. Is this He who can save the lost, He who can bear the weight
of a world's dependence? What an appeal there is here to His
compassion! How steadfastly now does He set His face towards
Jerusalem, feeling straitened till the world's salvation is secured,
and all possibility of failure for ever at an end.

This, then, was for Jesus an appeal that was irresistible. As the
full meaning of all that God had done for His people through Law and
Prophets was borne in upon Him, He saw that He must die. Now, for the
last time, He put aside all His hesitations, and as He prays, He
yields Himself to the will of the Father. Those are the supreme
moments in human life when man, through sore conflict and at great
cost, gives himself up to the will of God. Never was there so sore a
conflict, and never so much joy as here. His face was transfigured;
it beamed with the light and peace of heaven that shone from within.
The eyes of the disciples closed on a face, every line of which they
knew and loved--a face full of wisdom and resolve and deep-founded
peace, showing marks of trouble, of trial, of endurance, of premature
age; their eyes opened upon a face that shines with a preternatural
radiance--a face expressing, more than ever face had done, the
dignity and glory and joy of perfect harmony with God. He was
God-possessed, and the Divine glory shone from His face. It was at
the moment of his yielding all to God that Jesus attained His highest
glory. Man's life is transformed when he allows God's will to fill it
and shine through it; his person is transformed when he divests
himself of self-will, and allows God wholly to possess it.

How easy was it for the disciples at that hour to hear Him; to listen
now when He spoke of the cross, which, for Him and for all His
disciples, is the path leading from earth to heaven, from what is
selfishly human to true human glory! It is on the cross that Jesus is
truly enthroned. It is because He became the Servant of all that He
is greatest of all. If anyone could rival Him in the service he would
rival Him in the glory. It is because He gave Himself for us, willing
to do all to save us in our direst need, that He takes a place in our
confidence and in our heart that belongs to no other. He becomes the
one absolute need of every man, because He is that which brings us to
God, and gives God to us.

Hear Him, therefore, when, through His Providence, He preaches to you
this difficult lesson. If your difficulties and distresses are real;
if you cannot labour without thinking of them; if you cannot rest
from labour through fear of their possessing you; if your troubles
have assumed so hard a form, so real a place in your life, that all
else has come to seem unreal and empty, then remember that He whose
end was to be eternal glory chose sorrow, that He might break a way
to glory through human suffering. If there is nothing in your lot in
life which crosses and humbles you; if there is nothing in your
circumstances which compels you to see that this life is not for
self-indulgence and self-gratification, then still you must win
participation in your Lord's glory by accepting His lowliness and
heavenliness of mind. It is not to outward success that you are
called in His kingdom, it is to inward victory. You are called to
meekness, and lowliness, and mercy; to the losing of your life in
this world, that you may have life everlasting.

Notice, in conclusion, the impression made on the disciples, as
disclosed in Peter's words, "It is good to be here." Peter knew when
he was in good company. He was not very wise himself, but he had
sense enough to recognise wisdom in others. He was not himself a
finished saint, but he had a hearty appreciation of those who had
attained saintliness. He had reverence, power to recognise, and
ungrudgingly to worship, what was good. He had an honest delight in
seeing his Master honoured, a delight which, perhaps, some of us
envy. It was not a forced expression, it was not a feigned delight.
He was a man who always felt that something should be said, and so
here what was uppermost came out. Why did Peter feel it was good for
him to be there? Possibly it was in part because here was glory
without shame; recognition and homage without suffering; but no doubt
partly because he felt that in such company he was a better man than
elsewhere. Christ kept him right; seemed to understand him better
than others; to consider him more. There was no resentment on Peter's
part on account of the severe answers he received from Christ. He
knew these were just, and he had learned to trust his Lord; and it
suddenly flashes upon him that, if only he could live quietly with
Jesus in such retirement as they then enjoyed, he would be a better
man. We have the same consciousness as Peter, that if ever we are
right-minded and disposed for good, and able to make sacrifices and
become a little heavenly; if ever we hate sin cordially--it is when
we are in the presence of Christ. If we find it as impossible as
Peter did to live retired from all conflict and intercourse with all
kinds of men; if, like Peter, we have to descend into a valley
ringing with demoniacs cries; if we are called upon to deal with the
world as it actually is--deformed, dehumanised by sin; is it nothing
that we can assure ourselves of the society and friendship of One who
means to remove all suffering and all sin, and who does so, not by a
violent act of authority, but by sympathy and patient love, so that
we can be His proper instruments, and in healing and helping others,
help and heal ourselves!


INDISCREET IMPORTUNITY.

    "I gave thee a king in mine anger."
        HOSEA xiii. 11.

    "Ye know not what ye ask."
        MATTHEW xx. 22.

    PSALM lxxviii. 27-31.

That God sometimes suffers men to destroy themselves, giving them
their own way, although He knows it is ruinous, and even putting into
their hands the scorpion they have mistaken for a fish, is an
indubitable and alarming fact.

Perhaps no form of ruin covers a man with such shame or sinks him to
such hopelessness as when he finds that what he has persistently
clamoured for and refused to be content without, has proved the
bitterest and most disastrous element in his life. This particular
form of ruin is nowhere described with more careful, and significant
detail than in the narrative of Israel's determination to have a king
over them like other nations. Samuel, forseeing the evils which would
result from their choice, remonstrated with them and reminded them of
their past success, and pointed out the advantageous elements in
their present condition. But there is a point at which desire becomes
deaf and blind, and the evil of it can be recognised only after it is
gratified. God therefore gave them a king in His anger."

The truth, then, which is embodied in this incident, and which is
liable to reappear in the experience of any individual, is this, that
sometimes God yields to importunity, and grants to men what He knows
will be no blessing to them. "It is a thing," says South, "partly
worth our wonder, partly our compassion, that what the greatest part
of men most passionately desire, that they are generally most unfit
for; so that at a distance they court that as an enjoyment, which
upon experience they find a plague and a great calamity." It is
astonishing how many things we desire for the same reason as the
Israelites sought a king, merely that we may have what other people
have. We may not definitely covet our neighbour's house or his wife
or his position or anything that is his; but deep within us remains
the scarcely-conscious conviction that we have not all we might and
ought to have until our condition more resembles his. We take our
ideas of happiness from what we see in other people, and have little
originality to devise any special and more appropriate enjoyment or
success. Fashion or tradition or the necessity of one class in
society has promoted certain possessions and conditions to the rank
of extremely desirable or even necessary elements of happiness, and
forthwith we desire them, without duly considering our own
individuality and what it is that must always constitute happiness
for us, or what it is that fits us for present usefulness. Health,
position, fame, a certain settlement in life, income, marriage; such
things are eagerly sought by thousands, and they are sought without
sufficient discrimination, or at any rate without a well-informed
weighing of consequences. We refuse, too, to see that already without
those things our condition has much advantage, and that we are
actually happy. We may be dimly conscious that our tastes are not
precisely those of other men, and that if the ordinary ways of
society are the best men can devise for spending life satisfactorily,
these are scarcely the ways that will suit us. Yet, like petted
children, we continue persistently to cry for the thing we have not.
Sometimes it is a mere question of waiting. The thing we sigh for
will come in time, but not yet. To wait is the test of many persons;
and if they are impatient, they fail in the one point that determines
the whole. Many young persons seem to think life will all be gone
before they taste any of its sweets. They must have everything at
once, and cannot postpone any of its enjoyments or advantages. No
quality is more fatal to success and lasting happiness than
impatience.

This being a common attitude of mind towards fancied blessings, how
does God deal with it? For a long time He may in compassion withhold
the fatal gift. He may in pity disregard our petulant clamour. And He
may in many ways bring home to our minds that the thing we crave is
in several respects unsuitable. We may become conscious under His
discipline that without it we are less entangled with the world and
with temptation; that we can live more holily and more freely as we
are, and that to quench the desire we have would be to choose the
better part. God may make it plain to us that it is childish to look
upon this one thing as the supreme and only good. Providential
obstacles are thrown in our way, difficulties amounting almost to
impossibilities absolutely prevent us for a while from attaining our
object, and give us time to collect ourselves and take thought. And
not only are we prevented from attaining this one object, but in
other respects our life is enriched and gladdened, so that we might
be expected to be content. If we cannot have a king like other
nations, we have the best of Judges in abundance. And experience of
this kind will convince the subject of it that a Providence shapes
our ends, even although the lesson it teaches may remain unlearnt.

For man's will is never forced: and therefore if we continue to pin
our happiness to this one object, and refuse to find satisfaction and
fruit in life without it, God gives in anger what we have resolved to
obtain. He gives it in its bare earthly form, so that as soon as we
receive it our soul sinks in shame. Instead of expanding our nature
and bringing us into a finished and satisfactory condition, and
setting our life in right relations with other men, we find the new
gift to be a curse to us, hampering us, cutting us off in unexpected
ways from our usefulness, thwarting and blighting our life round its
whole circumference.

For a man is never very long in discovering the mischief he has done
by setting his own wisdom above God's, by underrating God's goodness
and overriding God's will. When Samuel remonstrated with Israel and
warned them that their king would tyrannise over them, all the answer
he got was: "Nay, but we will have a king to rule over us." But, not
many days after, they came to Samuel with a very different petition:
"Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not; for we
have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king." So it is
always; we speedily recognise the difference between God's wisdom and
our own. What seemed neglect on His part is now seen to be care, and
what we murmured at as niggardliness and needless harshness we now
admire as tenderness. Those at least are our second and wiser
thoughts, even although at first we may be tempted with Manoah when
he saw his son blind and fettered in the Philistine dungeon, to
exclaim,

  What thing good
  Pray'd for, but often proves our woe, our bane?
  I prayed for children and thought barrenness
  In wedlock a reproach;
  I gain'd a son And such a son
  as all men hail'd me happy.
  Who would be now a father in my stead?
  Oh, wherefore did God grant me my request,
  And as a blessing with such pomp adorn'd
  Why are His gifts desirable, to tempt
  Our earnest prayers, then giv'n with solemn hand
  As graces, draw a scorpion's tail behind?

Such, I say, may be our first thoughts; but when the first bitterness
and bewilderment of disappointment are over, when reason and right
feeling begin to dominate, we own that the whole history of our
prayer and its answer has been most humiliating to us, indeed, but
most honouring to God. We see as never before how accurately our
character has been understood, how patiently our evil propensities
have been resisted, how truly our life has been guided towards the
highest ends.

The obvious lessons are:-

1. Be discreet in your importunity. Two parables are devoted to the
inculcation of importunity. And it is a duty to which our own
intolerable cravings drive us. But there is an importunity which
offends God. There is a spiritual instinct which warns us when we are
transgressing the bounds of propriety; a perception whereby Paul
discerned, when he had prayed thrice for the removal of the thorn in
his flesh, that it would not be removed. There are things, about
which a heavenly-minded person feels it to be unbecoming to be
over-solicitous; and there are things regarding which it is somehow
borne in upon us that we are not to attain them. There are natural
disabilities, physical or mental or social weaknesses and
embarrassments, regarding which we sometimes cannot but cry out to
God for relief, and yet as we cry we feel that they will not be
removed, and that we must learn to bear the burden cheerfully.

2. On the other hand, we must not be false in prayer. We must utter
to God our real desires in their actual intensity; while at the same
time we must learn to moderate desires which we see to be unpleasing
to God. We must learn to say with truth:

  Not what we wish but what we want
    Thy favouring grace supply;
  The good unasked, in mercy grant,
    The ill, though asked, deny.

Learn why God does not make the coveted blessing accessible to you,
and you will learn to pray freely and wisely. Try to discover whether
there is not some peculiar advantage attaching to your present
state--some more wholesome example you can furnish, some more helpful
attitude towards others; some healthier exercise of the manlier
graces of Christianity, which could not be maintained were your
request granted.

3. If your life is marred by the gift you have wrung by your
importunity from a reluctant God, be wise and humble in your dealing
with that gift. If you have suddenly and painfully learned that in
the ordinary-looking circumstances of your life God is touching you
at every point, and if you clearly see that in giving you the fruit
of your desires He is punishing you, there is one only way by which
you can advance to a favourable settlement, and that is by a real
submission to God. Perhaps in no circumstances is a man more tempted
to break with God. At first he cannot reconcile himself to the idea
that ruin should be the result of prayer, and he is inclined to say,
If this be the result of waiting on God, the better course is to
refuse His guidance. In his heart he knows he is wrong, but there is
an appearance of justice in what he says, and it is so painful to
have the heart broken, to admit we have been foolish and wrong, and
humbly to beseech God to repair the disasters our own self-will has
wrought.


SHAME ON ACCOUNT OF GOD'S DISPLEASURE.

"And the Lord said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her
face, should she not be ashamed seven days? Let her be shut out from
the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in
again."--NUMBERS xii. 14.

The incident recorded in this chapter is of a painful character.
Petty jealousies discovered themselves in the most distinguished
family of Israel. Through the robes of the anointed and sacred High
Priest the throbbings of a heart stirred with evil passion were
discernible. Aaron and Miriam could not bear that even their own
brother should occupy a Position of exceptional dignity, and with
ignorant pretentiousness aspired to equality with him. It is to the
punishment of this sin that our attention is here called. This
punishment fell directly on Miriam, possibly because the person of
the High Priest was sacred, and had he been incapacitated all Israel
would have suffered in their representative; possibly because the
sin, as it shows traces of a peculiarly feminine jealousy, was
primarily the sin of Miriam; and partly because, in her punishment,
Aaron suffered a sympathetic shame, as is apparent from his,
impassioned appeal to Moses in her behalf.

The noteworthy feature of the incident and its most impressive lesson
are found in the fact that, although the healing and forgiveness
sought for Miriam were not refused, God is represented as resenting
the speedy oblivion of the offence on account of which the leprosy
had been sent and of the Divine displeasure incurred. There was cause
to apprehend that the whole matter might be too quickly wiped out and
forgotten, and that the sinners, reinstated in their old positions,
should think too lightly of their offence. This detrimental
suddenness God takes measures to prevent. Had an earthly father
manifested his displeasure as emphatically as God had now shown His,
Miriam could not for a time have held up her head. God desires that
the shame which results from a sense of His displeasure should last
at least as long. He therefore enjoins something like a penance; He
removes His stroke, but provides for the moral effects of it being
sufficiently impressed on the spirit to be permanent.

Three points are involved in the words:
  1. Our keener sense of man's displeasure than of God's.
  2. The consequent possibility of accepting pardon with too light a heart.
  3. The means of preventing such acceptance of pardon.

1. _We are much more sensitive to the displeasure of man than to that
of God._ Men have several methods of expressing their opinion of us
and their feeling toward us; and these methods are quite effectual
for their purpose. There is an instinctive and exact correspondence
between our feelings and every slightest hint of disapprobation on
the part of our acquaintances; and so readily and completely does the
mere carriage of any person convey to us his estimate of our conduct
that explicit denunciation is seldom required. The mode of expressing
opinion which is cited in the text is the most forcible Eastern mode
of expressing contempt. When one man spits in the face of another, no
one, and least of all the suffering party, can have the slightest
doubt of the esteem in which the one holds the other. If an insolent
enemy were to spit in the face of a slain foe, the dead man might
almost be expected to blush or to rise and avenge the insult. But
comparing His methods with such a method as this, God awards the palm
to His own for explicitness and emphasis. He speaks of the most
emphatic and unambiguous of human methods with a "but," as if it
could scarcely be compared with His expressions of displeasure. "If
her father had _but_ spit in her face"--if that were all--but
something immensely more expressive than that has happened to her.

God, therefore, would have us ponder the punishments of sin, and find
in them the emphatic expressions of His judgment of our conduct and
of ourselves. He resents our shamelessness, and desires that we
consider His judgments till our callousness is removed. The case
stands thus: God. is long-suffering, slow to anger, not of a
fault-finding, everchiding nature, but most loving and most just; and
this God has recorded against us the strongest possible condemnation.
This God, who cannot do what is not most just, and who cannot make
mistakes, this unfurious and holy God, whose opinion of us represents
the very truth, has pronounced us to be wicked and worthless; and we
seem scarcely at all impressed by the declaration. God's judgment of
us is not only absolutely true, but it must also take effect; so that
what He has pronounced against us will be seen written in the facts
bearing upon and entering into our life. But, although we know this,
we are for the most part as unmoved as if in hearing God's judgment
pronounced against us we had heard but the sighing of the wind or any
other inarticulate, unintelligible sound. There is a climax of
ignominy in having excited in the Divine mind feelings of displeasure
against us. One might suppose a man would die of shame, and could not
bear to live conscious of having merited the condemnation and
punishment of such a Being; one might suppose that the breath of
God's disapproval would blast every blessing to us, and that so long
as we know ourselves displeasing to Him His sweetest gifts must be
bitter to us; but the coldness of a friend gives us more thought, and
the contempt of men as contemptible as ourselves affects us with a
more genuine confusion.

God's demand, then, is reasonable. He would have us feel before Him
as much shame as we feel before men, the same kind of shame--shame
with the same blush and burning in it, not shame of any sublimated,
fictitious kind. He desires us individually to take thought, and to
say to ourselves: "Suppose a man had proved against me even a small
part of what is proved against me by God: Suppose some wise, just,
and honourable man had said of me and believed such things as God has
said: suppose he had said, and said truly, that I had robbed him,
betrayed trust, and was unworthy of his friendship, would the shame
be no more poignant than that which I feel when God denounces me?"
How trifling are the causes which make us blush before our fellows: a
little awkwardness, the slightest accident which makes us appear
blundering, some scarcely perceptible incongruity of dress, an
infinitesimal error in manner or in accent--anything is enough to
make us uneasy in the company of those we esteem. It is God's
reasonable demand that for those gross iniquities and bold
transgressions of which we are conscious we should manifest some
heartfelt shame--a shame that does not wholly lack the poignancy and
agitation of the confusion we feel in presence of human judgment.

2. _The consequent possibility of accepting the pardon of sin with
too light a heart._ To ask for pardon Without real shame is to treat
sin lightly; and to treat sin lightly is to treat God lightly.
Nothing more effectually deadens the moral sense than: the habit of
asking pardon without a due sense of the evil of sin. We ask God to
forgive us our debts, and we do so in so inconsiderate a spirit that
we go straightway and contract heavier debts. The friend who repays
the ten pounds we had lent him and asks for a new loan of twenty,
does not commend himself to our approval. He is no better who accepts
pardon as if it cost God nothing.

3. _The means of preventing a too light-hearted acceptance of
pardon._ Under the ceremonial prescriptions enjoined on Miriam lay
some moral efficacy. A person left for a full week without the camp
must, in separation from accustomed companionship, intercourse, and
occupations, have been thrown upon his or her own thoughts. No doubt
it is often while engaged in our ordinary occupations that the
strongest light is flashed upon our true spiritual condition. It is
while in the company of other people that we catch hints which seem
to interpret to us our past and reveal to us our present state. But
these glimpses and hints often pass without result, because we do not
find leisure to follow them up. There must be some kind of separation
from the camp if we are to know ourselves, some leisure gained for
quiet reflection. It is due to God that we be at some pains to
ascertain with precision our actual relation to His will.

The very feeling of being outcast, unworthy to mingle with former
associates and friends, must have been humbling and instructive.
Miriam had been the foremost woman in Israel; now she would gladly
have changed places with the least known and be lost among the throng
from the eye of wonder, pity, contempt or cruel triumph. All sin
makes us unworthy of fellowship with the people of God. And the
feeling that we are thus unworthy, instead of being lightly and
callously dismissed, should be allowed to penetrate and stir the
conscience.

If the leprosy departed from Miriam as soon as Moses prayed, yet the
shock to her physical system, and the revulsion of feeling consequent
on being afflicted with so loathsome a disease, would tell upon her
throughout the week. All consequences of sin, which are prolonged
after pardon, have their proper effect and use in begetting shame. We
are not to evade what conscience tells us of the connection between
our sin and many of the difficulties of our life. We are not to turn
away from this as a morbid view of providence; still less are we to
turn away because in this light sin seems so real and so hideous.
Miriam must have thought, "If this disgusting condition of my body,
this lassitude and nervous trembling, this fear and shame to face my
fellows, be the just consequence of my envy and pride, how abominable
must these sins be." And we are summoned to similar thoughts. If this
pursuing evil, this heavy clog that drags me down, this insuperable
difficulty, this disease, or this spiritual and moral weakness be the
fair natural consequence of my sin, if these things are in the
natural world what my sin is in the spiritual, then my sin must be a
much greater evil than I was taking it to be.

But especially are we rebuked for all light-heartedness in our
estimate of sin by remembering Him who went without the camp bearing
our reproach. It is when we see Christ rejected of men, and outcast
for us and for our sin, that we feel true shame. To find one who so
loves me and enters into my position that He feels more keenly than
myself the shame I have incurred; to find one who so understands
God's holiness and is Himself so pure that my sin affects Him with
the profoundest shame--this is what pierces my heart with an
altogether new compunction, with an arrow that cannot be shaken out.
And this connection of Christ with our sin is actual. If Paul felt
himself so bound up with his fellow-Christians that he blushed for
them when they erred, and could say with truth, "Who is weak and I am
not weak, who is offended and I turn not?" much more truly may Christ
say, Who sins and I am not ashamed? And if He thus enters into a
living sympathy with us, shall not we enter into sympathy with Him,
and go without the camp bearing His reproach, which, indeed, is ours;
striving, though it cost us much shame and self-denial, to enter
heartily into His feelings at our sins, and not letting our union to
Him be a mere name or an inoperative tie which effects no real
assimilation in spirit between us and Him.


NAAMAN CURED.

There is no Scripture story better known than that of Naaman, the
Syrian. It is memorable not only because artistically told, but
because it is so full of human feeling and rapid incident, and so
fertile in significant ideas. The little maid, whose touch set in
motion this drama, is an instance of the adaptability of the Jew.
Nothing seemed less likely than that this captive girl should carry
with her into Syria anything of much value to anyone. Possessions she
had none. Friends she might have, only if she could make them. As a
captive in a foreign land she might reasonably have put aside all
hope of obtaining any influence, and might naturally have sought only
to benefit herself. But she was a girl with a heart. She at once took
an interest in her new home, and saw with sorrowful surprise that
wealth could not purchase immunity from participation in the ordinary
human distresses, nor guarded gates forbid disease to pass in.
Brooding from day to day over the stories she had heard of Elisha's
power, and listening to her mistress's account of the failure of
still another attempted cure, she exclaims with childlike confidence
and earnestness, "Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in
Samaria! then would he recover him of his leprosy." And thus her
natural interest in the troubles of other people, her cheerful and
spirited acceptance of her position, and the sense that taught her to
make the most of it, brought her this great opportunity of doing an
important service. No one can lay the blame of his uselessness and
lack of good influence on his lack of opportunity, if he is in
contact with men at all, for wherever there are human beings there
are sorrows to be sympathised with, wants to be relieved, characters
to be fashioned.

And while this Jewish maid was utilising her captivity, her parents,
if alive, would be eating their hearts out with anxiety and anguish,
imagining for their daughter the worst of destinies. Instead of the
horrors which usually follow such a captivity, she is cared for in a
comfortable home. Little did the parents, think that there was any
work to be done in Syria, which none could so well do as their little
girl. The Lord had need of her, and knew that when the parents heard
all they would not resent that their daughter had been thus employed.
None of us see much further into the ways of Providence than those
parents saw. Now, as then, those who are bound up in one another are
separated, in order that ends even more important than the growth and
gratification of natural affections may be attained.

Significant, also, is the dismay of Joram, King of Israel, when he
received the letter bidding him find healing for Naaman. So little
did he believe in Elisha's power that he concluded the King of Syria
sought to pick a quarrel with him by asking him for a favour he knew
he could not grant. But while the king is helplessly tearing his
clothes in a passion of despair, Elisha sends him a message which, at
least for the present, gives him some calmness: "Why hast thou rent
thy clothes? Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is
a prophet in Israel." Elisha is ashamed that the King of Israel
should have exhibited such weakness before a foreign potentate. He
feels that the honour of Israel's God is implicated, and boldly takes
upon himself the responsibility of the cure. Bold it certainly was,
and tells of a confident faith that God will be faithful to His
servants. The king had no such faith. There was a power resident in
Israel of which he took no account. Like many other governments, this
Israelitish monarchy was unaware of its own resources, because it did
not condescend to reckon what was spiritual. Frequently in civil
history you find governments brought face to face with matters for
which they are, with all their resources, incompetent. In modern
Europe, and as much in our own country as in others, everything gives
place to politics. Nothing stirs so much excitement. Differences in
religion do not sever men as differences in politics do. We should,
therefore, recognise what is here suggested, and should
counter-balance an undue regard for political movements and political
power by the remembrance that the hardest tasks of all are
accomplished by quite another power, and by a power which the
politician often overlooks. What have we seen time after time in our
own Parliament, but the civil power rending its garments over evils
which it cannot cure? Are not the remedies which have been proposed
for prevalent vices absurdly incompetent? And it is the Church's
shame if she cannot step forward and confidently say, You cannot deal
with such things; hand them over to me. There must always be
"distempers of society" which rot the very life out of a nation, and
for which legislation and criminal law are wholly inadequate.
Honest-minded men who will not trifle with alarming abuses, who will
not pretend they have found a remedy, must simply rend their garments
in their presence. And it is well that in our day, as in others,
there are men who, trusting in personal effort and Divine aid,
practically say to Government, "leave these things to us." Christian
charity and practical wisdom have, in our day effected a good deal
more than the healing of one leprous grandee, even if as yet the
spiritual force that resides in the community is only spasmodically
and partially applied to existing evil.

Elisha's treatment of Naaman was intended to bring him into direct
and conscious dependence on God; or, in other words, to produce
humility and faith. Some persons are crushed and mastered by pain and
sickness, and some gain in spiritual worth what they lose in physical
strength. But Naaman's disease had as yet done little to instruct
him. He came as a great man, with his servants, and chariots, and
piles of money, to purchase a cure from a skilled man. He did not see
what Elisha plainly saw, that if this blessing came at all, it must
come from Israel's God, and that with Jehovah no man Could barter or
be on bargaining terms, but must accept freely what was freely given.
Therefore Elisha refuses even to see him, that Naaman might
understand it was with God he had to do; and by refusing a single
penny of payment he compelled the Syrian to humble himself and accept
his cure as a gift.

And probably the incident finds a place in the sacred history because
it marked an important step in the knowledge of God. It was an early
instance of the Conquests which the God of Israel was to make among
the heathen, a distinct and legible proof that whoever from among the
outlying nations appealed to Him for help would receive the blessing
he sought. But it was more than this, it emphasized the freeness of
all God's gifts. Nothing could be purchased from Jehovah; everything
must be received as a gift. This was a new idea to the heathen, and
probably to many of the Israelites also. Certainly it is an idea that
is only dimly apprehended by ourselves. Our dealing with one another
is to so large an extent governed by the idea that nothing can be had
for nothing, that we carry this idea into our dealings with God, and
expect only what we can earn and claim. It is a wholesome pride that
prompts us to work at anything rather than be dependent on other men,
but it is a most unwholesome and ignorant pride that forbids us to
acknowledge our dependence on God, and to accept freely what He
freely gives. Until we learn to live in God, to own Him as alone
having life in Himself, and to accept from Him life and all that
sustains it, both physical and spiritual, we are not recognising the
truth and living in it. Our good deeds and good feelings, our
repentances and righteous intentions and endeavours, are as much out
of place as a means of procuring God's favour and help as Naaman's
talents of silver and pieces of gold. We have God's favour
irrespective of our merit, and we must humble ourselves to accept it
as His free gift, which we could not earn and have not earned.

Naaman no sooner saw that Jehovah was a living and true God than he
perceived that certain practical difficulties would result from this
belief. Sometimes men do not connect their belief with their
practice; they do not let their left hand know what their right hand
is doing. But Naaman . foresaw that, as hitherto, he would still be
expected to enter the temple of the god Rimmon when his master went
to worship. And he wished Elisha's authority for this measure of
conformity.

In our own country men have been severely tested by acts of
conformity. And nothing gives the conscience of the whole people so
decided a lift as when men prefer disgrace or death to a conformity
which they believe to be wrong.

Had Naaman been as uncompromising as Daniel, who would not conform
even so far as to pray in a different corner of his room, or as the
Christian soldiers who suffered death rather than throw a pinch of
incense on the altar before the Emperor's image, possibly Elisha
would have given him greater commendation than the mere acquiescence
pronounced in the words, "Go in peace."

But in exculpation of Naaman it is to be said that he did not hide
his new conviction, but built an altar to Jehovah in Damascus. And
especially it is to be remarked that in his case these acts of
conformity were not proposed as a test of his adherence to the
religion of the country; and this makes all the difference. Had
Naaman's master commanded him to bow in the house of Rimmon as a test
of his acknowledgment of the Syrian god, Naaman would have refused;
but so long as it was a mere act or courtesy to his master, the
formal act of a courtier, from which no inferences could be drawn, he
might reasonably continue it. To receive the communion kneeling is
customary in some churches, and so long as one is allowed to put his
own interpretation on the attitude, no harm can come of it. But at
one time this attitude was the test by which two great and
antagonistic parties in England were distinguished from one another;
a meaning was put upon the act which made it impossible to every man
who could not accept that meaning. Conformity then was sin, unless
conviction went with the outward act. In many points of conduct this
is a distinction of importance. There are many things which we may do
so far as the thing itself is concerned, but which we may not do when
the public mind is agitated upon that point and will draw certain
inferences from our conduct. There are many things which to us have
no moral significance at all, any more than sitting at one side or
other of our table; but if a moral significance is attached to such
things by other people, and if they invite us to do them or to leave
them undone as a test of our attitude towards God or Christianity or
of our moral bent, then we must beware of misleading other people and
defiling our own conscience. Bowing in the house of Rimmon meant
nothing new to Naaman; it was not worship; it was no more than
turning round a street corner when the king had hold of his arm. To
him the idol was now, as to Paul, "nothing in the world." But if the
king had said, "You must bow to show the people that you worship
Syria's god," then plainly the bowing would have been unjustifiable.
And similarly, if a matter which to us is of no moral significance
becomes a test of our disposition or attitude towards truth, we must
be guided in our conduct not solely by our own view of the
indifference of the matter, but also by the significance attached to
it by other people. There are other points of conduct regarding which
we have no need to consult any prophet; points in which we are asked
to conform to a custom we know to be bad, or to follow and
countenance other men in what we know to be unwholesome for us. To
conform in such cases is to train ourselves in hypocrisy; it is to
say Lord, Lord, while we allow the world actually to rule our life.


THE LAME MAN AT THE TEMPLE GATE.

ACTS III. 1-8.

Although this miracle was followed by consequences so serious as to
make it a landmark in the history of those early days of the Church,
it was not itself the result of deliberation or contrivance. Peter
and John were, as usual, on their way to evening prayer in the
Temple. These two men had much to gain from one another, and they
kept much together. In study, in business, in Christian work, in life
generally everyone is the better of the friend who supplements his
own character. Happy he whose closest friend of all provokes only to
love and good works, and calls out only what is best in him. It is,
if not essential to the growth and health of the spiritual life, most
desirable to have a friend with whom intercourse is absolutely free
and frank; one to whom it is the natural thing to explain the actual
state of the spirit, and utter our most sceptical or our most devout
thoughts, and who can be trusted to respond charitably,
confidentially, and wisely to all communications. The Church owes
much to the friendship of Peter and John, as well as to each
individually.

On how small a contingency did this miracle hinge. Had Peter happened
to have had a penny he would have dropped it in the beggar's palm and
passed on, leaving him content with the alms and unconscious of all
he had missed. And it is sometimes well for us, as for Peter, that we
are baulked in our first intentions towards our friends and our first
attempts at being of use. It is well, for example, that we cannot at
once rescue every one out of sickness and poverty, for thereby our
love is compelled to a deeper consideration and to a thousand
kindnesses which find their way to the heart and leave for ever a
treasure of happy memory. Our inability to gratify the obvious and
clamant want of our friend keeps our thought hovering around him
until, at last, we discern how we can confer a better and more
enduring, because a more difficult and thoughtful, gift.

Probably Peter had often passed this lame man before. To-day the two
Apostles have not together as much as the poor widow with her two
mites, and they are passing and thinking as little as we sometimes
think of leaving the needy to the charity of others, when suddenly it
occurs to Peter that, after all, he has what may be of more service
to the beggar than silver or gold. "What I have, that give I thee."
The best help we can give is not that which we can give with the
hand, and which is current coin, which anyone else may give, and
which is of the same value, whoever gives it; but rather that which
we communicate from our own heart and soul, and which is our own
peculiar treasure--the accumulation of a life's experience. To add a
little to anyone's outward comfort is always worth doing; but to
impart to another what becomes life and strength and encouragement
perennially within himself is surely better. Frequently the help we
chiefly need is nothing outward and material, but that which one bare
human spirit can render to another. But alas! when thrown back upon
our inward resources, we are so conscious of our poverty that we
think sixpence or a shilling is probably of greater value than
anything which can come straight from our spirit.

Of the lame man little is told us which may give us a clue to his
state of mind. He was one of those who had been left unhealed by
Christ. Often must Christ have passed him, and yet He had never
spoken nor laid healing hand upon him. Perhaps during the long hours
the lame man sometimes thought of this, and bewailed his own
negligence in not using opportunities now for ever gone. He could
only look with envy and self-reproach on those who had once been
blind, or, like himself, lame, and whom he now saw in perfect health.
His feelings were akin to the remorse of those who imagine that their
day of grace is gone, and exclaim :

  Thy saints are comforted, I know,
    And love Thy house of prayer;
  I therefore go where others go,
    But find no comfort there.

There is no despair worth calling despair but despair of salvation.
But what Christ has not done, an Apostle may do. The lesser
instrument may effect what the more powerful has not effected. A
feebler ministry may in some cases produce results which the abler
ministry has not produced.

Another feature of the beggar's state of mind appears in listless,
mechanical way in which he asks an alms. He had not even troubled to
look up. Too commonly human prayer is the monotonous whine of the
beggar that scarcely troubles to consider to whom the petition is
addressed. Had this man taken the trouble to scan the appearance of
those fishermen he would have seen that silver or gold could not be
expected. But he had fallen into one chant, uttered as soon as the
shadow of the passer-by fell upon him. It is a picture of the unreal
and indifferent spirit in which much prayer is offered. There is no
harm in asking for certain benefits every day of our life, and no
harm in using the same words, if we have chosen these words as the
fittest. But there is harm in allowing a form of words to engender
monotony and lifelessness in the spirit, so that we never consider
carefully the object of our worship and what it is fit that He should
give. This cripple had come to be content with the few coppers which
would furnish his supper and bed; all the great world with its
pleasures, its enterprise, its high places lay quite beyond his hope;
and thus does one find his own soul dying to all that lies beyond
daily needs, and forgetful of the great and glorious things that are
written of the heirs of God. It is surely a great art to know "who it
is that speaks to us, and what is the gift of God."

Peter's first care was to arouse the man. "Look on us!" The man's
attention was commanded. All his life he had been training to know
faces, to know who would give and who would not give, who would not
give if others were looking, and who would give at the gate of the
Temple, dropping the coin as into an alms box, without any regard to
the want of the beggar. One glance at the frank face of Peter tells
him he is about to receive something. That is a man to be trusted.
This is a good beginning. Trust in Peter maybe the first step to
trust in Christ. But many rest at the earliest stage, believing the
messenger, but not coming into personal relations with Christ. Many
persons wish to be better than they are, and are prepared to do much
and sacrifice much in order to attain to a satisfactory spiritual
state. What is lacking is personal appeal to Christ. They must
recognise, with a conviction wrought in their own mind, that Jesus
Christ is the source of spiritual power, and they must for
themselves, appeal directly to Him.

The boldness with which Peter forms or, it might almost be said,
forces this personal relation to Christ in the case of this man is
surprising. Without a moment's hesitation or inquiry as to whether
the man's faith is quickened, Peter cries, "In the name of Jesus
Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk," taking him by the right hand
and lifting him up. Peter could not confer health upon the man in
spite of his state of mind. If the man had so chosen he might have
continued to lie where he was, a cripple. But simultaneously with
Peter's faith and authoritative command, the man's own faith was
quickened. He believed that in this name, that is, at the command and
in the strength of Christ, he could get up; and he arose. It was the
contagious confidence of Peter which begat faith in the lame beggar's
spirit. And there could not be a more instructive instance of the
suddenness with which a human being can be brought into saving
relation to Christ. When Peter began his sentence the lame man had no
faith, yet he boldly said to him, "In the name of Jesus Christ arise
and walk." Men may always thus be summoned to believe on the spot and
to act out the commands of Christ.

But in order that such a summons be effectual, two qualities in the
apostle are needful. He must not fear failure or rebuff. He must have
that humility which seeks the good of others regardless of its own
reputation. So long as we fear to expose our own feelings, and to
show that we are deeply concerned about the welfare of another
person, we shall do little in the way of inspiring faith. Our mouth
is kept shut by the fear of fruitlessly exposing our feelings. We are
not sure how our advances will be received. We have not, the loving
humility which braves risks to self.

We must also ourselves have lively faith if we are to communicate
faith to others. It was Peter's own faith which carried this man's
unbelief by storm. In presence of Peter's confidence he could not but
believe. Most men are far more moved by the contagion of others
strong feeling and example than by arguments or verbal appeals. For
the diffusion of faith it is a man like Peter that is wanted, who
overleaps the obstacles which other men would stop to examine; a man
like Luther, erring perhaps in fine points of doctrine, but giving
impetus and force to the whole movement in Christ's kingdom, and
sweeping along with him a host of weaker and dependent spirits. If we
are not propagating faith in Christ, it is mainly because our our
faith is meagre and timorous. If we are not producing Christians it
is because we are not ourselves in the present experience of His
mighty power. And while this is so, our conduct betrays the weakness
of our faith, and we chill the kindling warmth in other souls instead
of fanning it into flame, and all that proceeds from us is as the
frosty wind of an untoward spring-time, that unseasonably marks every
springing thing with death.

Possessed of those qualities, any one may communicate that best of
all gifts, faith in Christ. The joy of Peter, in discovering that he
could impart health and brightness to those who were oppressed by
various human ills, is a joy which may be repeated, and was meant to
be repeated, in the experience of every Christian. We are not to look
hopelessly on the world at large or on our own friends.

We are not to think that the pleasure we have in being of substantial
service to a friend, we cannot have in the case of that which is most
substantial. We are to believe that Christ now has all power in
heaven and on earth, and that those who have experienced this power
are expected to be the channel of its communication to others. The
faith which strengthens and elevates our own spirit may be
communicated, upon our effort and prayer, to the heart of others.





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