"The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables." Mark 4:11
It is astonishing how differently the truth of Christ looks from within and from without. It is like the stained-glass windows in a church. One who stands outside and looks at them sees none of their rich beauty. They seem dull, opaque, and without meaning. But let one stand within the building and look at the rich windows, and all is transformed. The lines and figures appear in all their rich loveliness.
It is the same with the truths of God's Word. They are not attractive to those who are without. People sometimes sneer at the faith of Christians, as they find them leaning upon an unseen God, and clinging to intangible hopes. But when one becomes a Christian, all is changed. Where there was no loveliness, there now appears the loftiest beauty. What was laughed at before, is now seen to be worthy of highest admiration. Only those who have received Christ, can really understand the wonderful things of His love.
"The LORD upholds all those who fall—and lifts up all who are bowed down." Psalm 145:14
God never gets tired helping us learn our life lessons. No matter how often we fail, He is ready to give us another chance. When we fail to have our lesson learned, He does not give us up, putting us out of His school—but tells us to take the lesson over again and try to get it better. Only think how often we have to try—before we do things as He wants us to do them, how often we fall in trying to walk, before we learn to walk. If our great Teacher were not patient with us—we would never become like Christ; but He never wearies of our slowness. He is pleased with our efforts, however faulty they are, and has for us always an encouraging word.
"By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another." John 13:35
There is one unfailing mark of Christian character, wherever it is found: Love is always in it. Whatever else may be or may not be in the new life of the Christian—the scarlet thread of love is always woven into the character. God is love, and the believer in Christ, is in a measure, like God. To be a Christian is to have Christ in the heart; and Christ is love. Not to have love—is not to be a Christian.
The first effect of faith in Christ—is the springing up of love in the heart of him who believes. This love does not lie hidden—but is revealed in the life. It shows itself in love for God; but there is no love for God—which does not also make the heart warm toward man. He who loves not his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
Christian love is not a mere beautiful sentiment, glowing like a radiant vision in the soul—but fading the moment we meet our brothers in actual life; it is a love that becomes the very mainspring of all action, the burning heart of all ambition. It is a love that makes us pitiful toward all human sorrow, gentle toward human infirmity, helpful toward human need, patient under human unkindness and injury, and ready at every call to do and suffer and sacrifice.
"We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak—and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself." Romans 15:1-3
There are some people who are anointed to be helpers of others—to build them up. Those who have questions or perplexities, those who are seeking light or guidance, turn to them instinctively, with confidence, sure of finding what they seek.
There is need for such helpers. There are questions which books or sermons do not answer; it is a friend that is needed, one who can understand and sympathize. No other ministry to which men are ordained in this world, is so sacred as this, which comes into lives in their deepest experiences, at times when, without wise help, they may be wrecked. There is not one of us who may not be such a helper.
"I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen." John 3:11
The things that Christ teaches are certainties. Very much human science is only guessing; we cannot be sure of it. Every now and then some new discovery is made, which sweeps away whole volumes of boasted theories. We have to be all the time buying new books—just to keep up with the changing times; and we are afraid to quote from any but the newest editions, lest there has been some recent discovery which contradicts the older.
But Christ's teachings are certainties. He came down from heaven, where from all eternity He had dwelt, and He knew the things He taught. We may accept His words without the slightest doubt, and may build our soul's hopes upon them. What He said about God, about God's love, about heaven, about the judgment, about the future life, about the way of salvation, is all certainty! As we go on into the future, we shall find everything just as He has described it.
This fact should give us deep and strong confidence—if we are reposing upon Christ's promises for salvation and life. It should drive us speedily to His cross for refuge—if we are still unsheltered, for He has told us of condemnation abiding upon all who do not believe on Him. We may not disregard a single word that Christ spoke, for all His words are all true and eternal. Not one of them can ever fail Him who leans upon it.
"Joshua, son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten." Judges 2:8
We have no elaborate account of the closing scenes of this godly man's life. Many chapters are filled with accounts of his life, his work, his wise words, and his many activities; but all we know about his death is told in this one little phrase. If he had lived in these days—the scenes of his death would have been described with glowing pen. We would have known what his last words were, how he met the end, whether with or without fear; what dying testimony he left to the power of divine grace. But not a word have we, about any of these things. We are told simply, in the briefest possible words, that 'he died'.
The same is true of all Bible saints. We have no death-bed scenes, no descriptions of dying experiences. The meaning of this, is that it matters very little how a man dies; living is the important thing. Not many people have raptures in the last hour. Some, whose lives have been very Christly, die without any remarkable manifestation of faith or any joyous experiences. Then sometimes those who have not lived a Christian life at all—seem to have the greatest raptures in their last hours. All this proves that it is living, not dying—which tests one's character. In such a man as Joshua, it mattered not whether he had a triumphant end, or sank away in the shadows of old age, and died without a word of ecstasy. His life was his testimony. He needed no other.
"Joshua ... died . . . and the children of Israel did that which was evil . . . and they forsook the Lord." Judges 2:8-12
That is too often the way. So long as the godly parent or the faithful friend lives, it is not hard to do right; but when the human guide is gone—the restraining hand is withdrawn, and the child or friend drifts away from the holy influence. Many a boy begins to drift away from God—at his mother's grave.
There was a man whose besetting sin was strong drink. He said to a friend one day: "When I am with you, I feel strong; if I could always be with you, I would never give way to my terrible passion." Said his friend: "Whenever you feel the temptation getting the mastery over you, come to me and I will help you." So, many a time this poor man might have been seen hurrying toward his friend's office. Once in that helpful presence, he soon grew strong.
But death came to this friend, and among those who wept at his grave—none shed bitterer tears than he who had so often run to him for the sympathy and help that saved him. Soon the temptation came again, and there was no one to whom to go. In his despair, he fell into the old sin, and sank down to ruin! If he had known Christ, when his friend died, he would still have missed him, and would have found living harder without his help—but he would not have sunk down in utter helplessness. He would then have had the strength of Christ to support him in his temptation.
A LITTLE EXTRA
"Jesus gave him no answer." John 19:9
The silences of Jesus are as significant as His words. He was silent before Pilate. He understood the governor's miserable insincerity. Pilate had opportunity enough to do the right thing—but he had thrown away his chance. Now Jesus would answer no more of his questions. It was not worthwhile.
One lesson we get from this silence of Jesus is, that if we reject His offers of grace over and over—the time may come, will come, when He will be silent to us. And of all calamities that can possibly ever come to any man, no other could be so great as that Christ should be silent to his prayers, turning his back and answering no more when He calls.
Another lesson from Christ's example is, that there come times in every life when silence is better than speech. Ofttimes to words of reviling or insult, silence is the only true answer. To many of the assaults made by sceptics on our religion, it is better that we remain silent. There is a time to speak boldly in the presence of Christ's enemies; but there also are times when we should keep silence, attempting no answer.