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Nazareth Revisited


On the Way to Gethsemane.

When Jesus had finished the remarks considered in the last chapter, he said, "Arise, let us go hence." Upon this "they sang an hymn and went out unto the Mount of Olives." On the way, he appears to have referred again to the calamity over-hanging them all. There was something extremely natural in this. We all know from experience, how the agony of approaching evil recurs again and again to the troubled apprehensions. This agony must have been peculiarly acute in the case of the Lord, from his knowledge of the certainty of its occurrence, and from the extreme susceptibility to impression which must have characterised so lucid a mentality as his. His allusion, however, was not in the vein of tragedy, or even in the spirit of suffering, but rather in that of the calm and dignified contemplation of fact.

"All ye," said he, as they walked along, "shall be offended because of me this night." "Stumbled." is the idea -- confounded -- perplexed. Their minds were fixed on him in his kingly capacity. Something was about to happen for which they were totally unprepared, though he had sought to prepare them. The prophecy was to be fulfilled which said, "I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad." Though God should be the smiter, it would be by the hands of the ungodly, and the cruel. The tender, loving, faithful shepherd should be "delivered into the hands of sinners, who should insult him and kill him." Yet would the cloud be but for a moment. "After I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee." Peter again protested the impossibility of his deserting the Lord, whatever others might do. Again, he received the intimation that Peter would be distinguished above the others in denying. Again, with ardour he declared his readiness to go with him to death, in which the other disciples joined him. With this, the affectionate tussle closed, and the subject changed.

The vine was a common thing in Palestine, and must have been a common object on the road which Jesus and his disciples now walked, towards the Olivet suburb of Jerusalem, which, though naked enough now, was richly cultivated before the terrible Roman destruction. Apparently seizing on this common familiar object, he made it a text for most interesting discourse concerning himself. Considering the painful pre-occupation of his mind, we may realise the mental majesty that could so speak on the way to agony and death.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman." What a glimpse we get here of the vital position of Christ in the Father's work and purpose on the earth -- a position so ignored in the popular and learned thoughts of the day -- the Father cultivating and training the Christ-vine for the rich grape-fruit of his service and praise.

"I am the vine, ye are the branches." Here we have men in Christ the Father's tillage: but the tillage is with an object -- not the mere benefit of the branches (as the popular idea of salvation supposes), but the gratification and profit of the Father vine-dresser. "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away" -- a fruitless branch, a useless thing. What is the fruit? The results that spring in a man's mind and life from the faith of Christ, otherwise described by Paul as "the fruit of the spirit, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Gal. v. 22, 23). God aims at producing this fruit in men by the truth concerning Christ. The power or success of the truth in any man is to be measured by this result. "Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit: so shall ye be my disciples." If the fruit does not come, the Father removes the branch: so Jesus informs us. This will be done finally at the judgment: but there is many a removal in the ways of providence now, as we learn from the messages of Christ to the seven Asiatic churches (Rev. ii 16; iii. 3).

If the fruit comes, what then? The fruit-bearing branches instead of being removed, become the subjects of special attention with a view to their further improvement. "Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth (or pruneth) it that it may bring forth more fruit." The true and loving servants of Christ may therefore expect trouble. Trouble (not allowed to go to the destroying point), is the thing for accentuating a man's spiritual preferences. Hence it is love and not displeasure that leads the Father to bring His children into trouble. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth ... for our profit that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now, no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous; nevertheless, afterward, it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them who are exercised thereby" (Heb. xii. 6, 11). The trouble, however, will not be prolonged beyond the time it is needed. "The God of all grace, after ye have suffered a while (will) establish, strengthen, settle you" (1 Pet. v. 10).

Jesus proceeded to indicate the principle on which men become engrafted in him as branches of the vine: "Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." This is the principle to which every study of the Word of God conducts us. "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word" (Psa. cxix. 9). "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (verse 105). "Ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth" (1 Pet. i. 22). "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (Jno. xvii. 17). "I commend you to God and the word of His grace, which is able to build you up" (Acts xx. 32).

The word which Christ spoke and the word contained in the Scriptures of Moses and the prophets is one. It is increasingly unfashionable to estimate that word in the way that Christ indicates. But the truth remains with Christ, though all the world go away from it. It is by the enlightenment resulting from the study of the Christ-Word given to us in the Scriptures of truth (and by this enlightenment alone), that men can attain that unity with Christ which is signified by incorporation with the branchship of the true vine. And it is only by continuance in this enlightenment that the connection can be maintained. Therefore, saith he, "Abide in me and I in you." This implies the need for effort on our part. We cannot abide in Christ, nor he in us, without aiming to do so. Practically, it means letting the truth abide. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col. iii. 16). Or as Christ expressed it, let "my words abide in you."

How we are to do this is manifest, but has been much obscured by the metaphysical theology of the dark ages. It is by "giving attention to reading" (1 Tim. iv. 13). Only by reading the word with regularity, attention, and prayer can the word abide in us. By this process, it does abide. By the neglect of it, it withers away and the mind is left with its merely natural impressions, which in spiritual directions, are darkness itself. There is much literal force and truth in what Christ says on this head: "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye expect ye abide in me. tie that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit, for without me, ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a (broken) branch and is withered, and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burnt." There are those who recognise the truth of this, and there are those who practically deny it. The latter give in to the false impression either that the knowledge of the truth is of little importance, or that once known, it needs no renewal; and under this false impression, they give attention to the truth but little, and cultivate the things of the present world much, with the result that in all spiritual directions they grow barren and sterile; their hearts become but feebly responsive to the glorious things of God; their affections die; till at last the withering branch is broken by the next storm, and falls with the wreckage to the ground.

There is no safety except in Christ's advice to abide in him, and to let his words abide in us. The adoption of this advice brings special privileges. "If ye abide in me ... Ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you." There are those who doubt -- those who deny this. What shall we say? Shall our faith be turned aside by their unbelief? Shall the word of Christ be neutralised by human ignorance and failure? If men of a disobedient and faithless mind ask and receive not, does it follow that God will disregard the prayer of the humble and the afflicted who believe in Him and serve Him? As well might we argue that because God refused to be inquired of by the faithless princes of Israel who came before Ezekiel, therefore to Ezekiel God would turn a deaf ear (Ezek. xx. 3). There are doubtless thousands who ask and receive not, because, like these princes, "the stumbling block of their iniquity is set up in their hearts." Let not their failures dismay or discourage the humble and the contrite who tremble at Yahweh's word, to whom Yahweh has promised that He will look and "save them in the time of need." Let them "make their requests known unto God," in everything giving thanks, and in everything prepared to subordinate their own ideas and wishes to the perfect will of God. Christ has given us an example here: "Take away this cup from me: nevertheless, not what I will, but what thou wilt." This qualification makes us certain of an answer to all our prayers, even if we do not get the answer in the very form we may ask it. This is John's reasoning on the point: "This is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us. And if we know that he hear us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." The apparent obscurity of this saying disappears in the experience of true children of God. Such would desire nothing that God sees not fit to give. What He sees fit, that He gives; and this being what we ask, we know that we always have what we ask; and here we rest, even in the midst of the most direful experiences, knowing that experience of evil is part of the instrumentality by which God is preparing children for Himself during this transitory age of evil, against the perfect and endless ages beyond.

Besides the assurance of prayer-answer to those who abide in Christ, there is the assurance out of which that springs, viz.: the assurance of Christ's own love. "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love." It seems a peculiarity about this at first that continuance in the love of Christ should seem to depend upon ourselves. Does it not depend upon Christ whether his love continue toward us or not? No: his love is governed by conditions. He explains this: "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love." Is not this reasonable? Is it not beautiful? Here we are alone in the darkness, with his commandments in our hands: does it not seem natural that his pity and his love should be excited by the spectacle of poor and feeble men and women striving, under circumstances of difficulty, to do what he has told them to do? And is it not similarly accordant with reason that his love should be turned away from men who are governed only by their natural desires, and who do not admit the commandments of Christ to a share in the moulding of their actions? There can be but one answer.

His reason for discoursing of these things is also beautiful: "These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full." What more calculated to kindle and maintain a perpetual personal joy than the confidence that we are objects of care to the Father, and that Christ's own love is towards us? We thirst for love and care. We are naturally formed to require and to desire them. And, in Christ, they are within our reach in the most perfect and beneficent form. Faith lays hold of them now with perfect satisfaction with this perfectly consoling prospect, that when faith has finished her short fight during the darkness of this probation, the fact on which faith feeds will become a thing seen with the brightness of the sun. For God Himself has said: "The hand of the Lord shall be known toward his servants, and His indignation toward His enemies." "When ye see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb." "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you: and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem" (Is. lxvi. 14, 13). "They shall be mine," saith the Lord of Hosts, "in that day when I make up my jewels: and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return and discern between the righteous and the wicked: between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not" (Mal. iii. 17, 18).

Here Christ introduced the leading commandment -- one that, as Paul afterwards said (Gal. v. 14), comprehends all the others: "This is my commandment that ye love one another as I have loved you." To what length did the love of Christ go? He anticipates the question: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life far his friend." The world has grown hoary in hatred, strifes, emulations -- anger, wrath and selfishnes. To those who know only this bitterness, the very word "love" has become a mockery. It is a reality for all that, and the most beautiful and powerful reality under the sun. There is no element of character so constraining and ennobling. It is, however, of exotic growth. It can only grow and last where God is known and feared. We love because He loved. It is the principal attribute of the Father's character: for God is love, while much else besides. It is the essential characteristic of His children: for "he that loveth not knoweth not God" (1 Jno. iv. 8). It is a love that acts more highly -- and draws its life more deeply than mere "like." It acts towards friend and foe, though necessarily more powerfully towards the former than the latter. It can do good to those who hate: it can benefit the unthankful and the evil: it can pray for the scornful and the hurtful: at the lowest, it can and always does refrain from doing evil and inflicting harm on enemies. All this it has been commanded to do, and it finds possible because commanded.

But love's glorious revel is towards God and those who show themselves out of a full heart to be His. It loves God with all the heart: and loving Him that begat, it loveth also all that is begotten of Him. So inevitable is this that John puts the love of God as the true criterion of the love of His children. "By this we know that we love the children of God when we lave God and keep) His commandments" (1 Jno. v. 2). A man's love of God is a pledge to himself that he loves the children of God, even though he may be as lonely as Noah or Lot, and know the children of God only by far-off report. This glorious love is a continual feast. In the nature of things it cannot come to an end. Faith and hope must necessarily cease with the imperfect order of things to which they belong: but love never faileth. It will rejoice for ever in the perfect objects on which it will feast itself in "the general assembly and church of the first-born," when God will have accomplished His purpose of rooting the wicked out of the earth for ever.

Jesus recurred again to the fact that our continuance in his friendship is dependent upon conformity to his commandments (Jno. xv. 14). That conformity brings us very close to him. It is an honour to have him for "Lord and Master," which he says he is: but he points out that we are higher than servants if we make ourselves pleasing to him by the observance of his commandments. "Henceforth I call you not servants: for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth. But I have called you friends: for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you." He would have us recognise that the privilege is of his conferring, and in nowise of our own procuring. "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you."

How true is this of the whole work of God. It is an affair of divine initiative. God made choice of Israel: they had nothing to do with choosing Him. He forced Himself on their notice: His whole work through them, down to that "visiting of the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name," which is still in force, has been His own planning: His own working out. Man has nothing to do with it, except to humbly and gratefully accept what is offered to him. The wisdom of the present world, even in its most approved and most modern form, is darkness on this point. Men have only begun to be wise when they have begun to fear God, and serve Him, and wait upon Him in His way.

While speaking so much of love, Jesus glances at hatred, in the full knowledge that his disciples would have their share. "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you." Herein is an extraordinary theme for contemplation -- that the world should hate Christ and his people. About the fact there can be no doubt. The crosses with which the world is filled are the evidences in a certain way that Christ the good; Christ the faultless; Christ the perfect, was hated with the intensity that can only find satisfaction in murder. Men who in any degree resemble him have in all ages been the object of a similar feeling. The world cannot find expletives bitter enough to express their contempt and detestation for men who try to "keep themselves unspotted from the world," and who are animated by the principles and loves that governed Christ. What is the explanation of this apparently incredible but undoubted fact, that the best of mankind have been the worst hated? Jesus indicates it in the next remark he made: "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." He states it still more plainly in the prayer with which he concluded this loving discourse: "I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world ... I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."

The explanation of the enmity is clearly seen when we realise what constitutes the godliness of the godly, and what constitutes the ungodliness of the ungodly. Taking the ungodly first: "God is not in all their thoughts." Gratification is their rule of action, and that on the lowest plane -- self indulgence and mutual glorification for advantage. They worship and serve the creature in one another. They enjoy the things God has made without any reference to God. His worship, His fear, His love, are sentiments totally foreign to them. Their likes and inclinations are the law of their actions. They are not subject to the laws of God. They look no higher than man in all their dealings and all their relations. They have no hope concerning the future: and no intelligence concerning the past. They have no interest in what God has already done and no faith in what He has promised to do. They have no taste for people or books that have affinities in those directions. They are a law unto themselves. They love those that are of their own mind, and this not with a very strong love; while they hate, and hate heartily, those who stand apart from them, for God's sake, and who teach that their worldiness is an evil thing. Nothing is more intolerable and detestable to them than the apostolic injunction, "Come out from among them and be ye separate," unless it be the actual obedience of that injunction on the part of those who love God. By this, their self-esteem is wounded: their pride stung to the quick: their resentments stirred to the deadliest bitterness. They hate godliness, which they call "cant." They detest obedience, which they call 'hypocrisy." They abominate faithfulness to God, which they call "bigotry."

The excellence of the excellent is their godliness. Therefore it was the very excellence of Christ and his brethren that stirred the hatred of the world; and the same cause produces the same effect to the present day. For what is this godliness of the godly but the reverse of ungodliness on every point? With the godly, God is first: His law is their rule whatever self-mortification it may inflict. Gratification is with them permissible only where the law of God allows. The worship and service of God is their highest pleasure: His love their highest affection. They set God always before them. Man is interesting and valuable to them as he conforms to God. "Glory to God in the highest" is their motto. Their whole interest is in His purpose with the earth: their hearts are in what He has done and what He has promised to do: their minds are shaped and controlled by His commandments. It is no wonder the world cannot love them: and no wonder that their part is to "come out from among them." How can two such opposites mix?

It is a bad sign when the professed friends of Christ are at home in the world. There must, of course, be intercourse and adaptation to a certain extent, as Paul teaches in 1 Cor. v.; but between true men of God and thorough-paced children of the flesh, there can be nothing in common as regards principle of action and policy of life. He who is after the flesh hates him who is after the Spirit, if he be really such. It is by no means pleasant to the friends of Christ to be objects of hatred. It is an experience, however, to which Christ's example and Christ's words have reconciled them. Properly enlightened, they do not look for anything else: "Remember the word that I said unto you." The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you because they know not Him that sent me." When, therefore, a man of God finds himself avoided and tabooed, and disliked on account of his partiality for the things that pertain to God, he is not tempted to conceal his partiality or to conform to the world to disarm their enmity. He rather accepts the situation with a certain satisfaction. He finds consolation in the fact that Christ experienced an exactly similar treatment, and that the real explanation of it is, that the world, with all its pretensions to superiority, is ignorant of the highest and the governing fact of the universe, namely, that God exists and has made all things for Himself.

"They know not the Father." This is enough to reconcile .us to their unfriendliness, -- or at all events to enable us to bear it with composure and to choose it by preference. For what wise man of God would want to be on good terms with a generation that "in works deny Him?" What enlightened man would wish to be in love with those who hate Christ? (And that they hate him is shown by their utter disregard for all things pertaining to him, and by their disobedience of his commandments.) "He that hateth me," Christ proceeded to say, "hateth my Father also." The world hates God. This is the true explanation of its hatred of all who belong to Him. There is a terrible sequel to its awful infatuation. "A sword is sharpened and furbished: it glitters for the slaughter." If Christ had not come and done works unparalleled in the history of mankind, their indifference might have been excusable. So Christ proceeds to say. But after the display of wisdom and power that took place in the apostolic age, and which has practically been held up to the gaze of all subsequent generations in the apostolic writings, there is no palliation for the universal folly and stupidity. They have truly hated Christ without a cause, and their crime will be brought home to them in terrifying judgment, "when once his wrath begins to burn."

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